(Editor’s note: The following story “Residents Speak Passionately About Bonin’s ‘Plan to End Homelessness’ at Westchester NC Meeting” appeared in an April 7 issue of Venice Current and is reprinted with permission. Visit: Venicecurrent.com)
More than 450 residents were on hand to listen to a plan presented by Councilmember Mike Bonin to explore additional ways to house homeless people on the Westside including temporary cabins or safe camping sites at Will Rogers State Beach and Dockweiler State Beach, at Mar Vista Park and Westchester Park, and at Fisherman’s Village.
On March 31, Bonin introduced a motion to instruct the City Administrative Officer to evaluate the feasibility of and identify funding for the shelters and sites.
On Tuesday night [April 6], at a meeting of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa, Bonin was on hand (via Zoom) to present his plan in person.
For several years, Mr. Bonin has steadfastly refused to attend Venice Neighborhood Council meetings, despite numerous efforts to get him to do so. Consequently, many Venetians were among the nearly 450 stakeholders in attendance to offer their opinions on his latest plan. Before the meeting even started, unmuted, excited chatter prompted the Council’s President, Paula Gerez, to caution attendees that “Everyone’s heated…we need to come to him with talking points, not anger” before muting everyone and explaining that Mr. Bonin would be listening to public comments only, not taking questions.
Mr. Bonin’s slideshow presentation of his plan lasted roughly 30 minutes. He stated that it is “absolutely essential that we take action on homelessness crisis in LA” and that the “status quo is unacceptable.” He cited an “economic forecast” predicting that homelessness will double “without action”.
Despite a slide in his presentation listing a variety of projects — from permanent supportive and Bridge housing in Venice to safe parking in West L.A. — Bonin seemed to imply that without sacrificing public recreational spaces throughout his district, no progress can be made.
The city’s strategy, he continued, has been to offer “one thing at a time”, while his plan offers a “full menu” that includes every option, including tiny homes (he calls them “cabin communities”), safe camping and safe parking. And he maintained that he has looked at every option in CD11, including private spaces, which he deemed “prohibitively expensive.”
He claimed that “people are complaining” that there are “no solutions being offered on the Westside,” and that in order for these sites to come online in a timely matter, the City must act immediately to identify “funding streams” and get the very complicated approval process started.
Any impacts on beach access (including eliminating public access to parking lots and an RV park, which are typically full during the summer) will require Coastal Commission approval. His plan also includes having the city identify suitable airport-owned land for a tiny home village, which would require the approval of the FAA and Los Angeles World Airports. At the end of the presentation, he agreed to stay and “listen to comments.”
Public commentary was varied and occasionally heated, and included one resident speaking on behalf of Westchester Seniors in opposition to the plan being zoom-bombed with pornography, in an apparent effort to silence him as he pointed out that there have been more than 60 calls to law enforcement from Westchester Park in the past two months.
The majority of the commenters identified as Westchester residents, but there were several from Venice, including a few who pointed out that crime and encampments had only worsened once the Bridge Housing facility had been built, despite similar promises from Bonin that it would lead to the beginning of a solution to the problem.
Several commenting were in favor of the project, thanking Bonin for his “thankless work.” One supporter claimed to have met “many lovely, unhoused neighbors” in the park while walking there with her young child, including an elderly, unhoused woman with roots in Westchester. The next person commenting described an incident in which her son had a bucket of feces and urine dumped over him during a tennis lesson at the courts.
Another Westchester resident described his six-year-old daughter being accosted by a mentally ill homeless man, resulting in her no longer wanting to leave their home. One woman who described herself as a “hardcore” Bonin supporter who had campaigned for him in the last election described the situation as a “mental illness and drug addiction problem” and said that a local transient had recently exposed himself to her and her teenage daughter.
Public comment was promptly cut off after 90 minutes, and then Board members had an opportunity to question Bonin. Their discussion covered a variety of topics. Bonin explained his plan for safe camping in Westchester Park as setting aside just one section of the park where services would be offered.
But when asked if that meant that other areas of the park would be off limits to campers, and if the homeless would be prevented from returning to the park, he launched into a discussion of “what has happened in this country in the last year…There are more people living on the streets.”
He blamed the pandemic for the lack of outflow of residents from safe parking and bridge housing into more permanent options and finished by stating that homelessness “will continue to be a problem as long as there’s inflow.”
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that with the city re-opening and the pandemic ending, the situation with RV parking along Jefferson (which he also blamed on the pandemic and the CDC’s recommendation that the vehicles not be moved) would change, and that “some of those changes I will support, and others I will oppose.”
When asked to comment on what could be done about the mental health component of the problem, Bonin stated that he could do nothing because mental health is “county” — despite the fact that the beach parking lots he wishes to commandeer for his motion are also county-owned.
Bonin concluded by explaining that he wanted “more than a settlement” from the L.A. Alliance lawsuit, in the form of a consent decree containing specific instructions for “systemic change.”
He said he didn’t think a settlement would work — “it’ll say house this number of people, but the problem will just get worse. I’ve asked for a consent decree, master settlement with everyone and make this agreement have binding commitments for long term housing and systemic reforms. And I’m proposing it because I’m fed up with the status quo.”
On Thursday night, the Pacific Palisades Community Council will be “discussing and obtaining information” about Bonin’s motion, but the Councilman is not expected to attend, and the agenda item is listed as “discussion only”.
Since this plan became public, almost 9,000 people have signed an online petition opposing Bonin’s proposal to place a tiny home village/safe camping site at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades.