Some Venice residents are threatening to sue the city of Los Angeles if it goes forward with a proposal to convert a shuttered senior center into a warehouse for the homeless to store belongings.
The Venice Stakeholders Association argues such a conversion would violate a 1950 Superior Court ruling that held the property could only be used as a playground or for recreational purposes. The building is on Pacific Avenue, in a residential neighborhood a block away from an elementary school.
“If we have to go to court on this one we will,” said Mark Ryavec, a Venice resident and president of the group. He doesn't want the storage in his neighborhood, but rather in an industrial area off of Del Rey Blvd.
Venice is a homelessness hot spot, with many of the 11th council district's 2,500 homeless people living near the boardwalk. The conflict comes as city and county officials have vowed to spend more to help the homeless, whose numbers have ballooned to about 47,000, most of them living in encampments all over the city.
“It’s either leave encampments on the streets…or provide storage so folks have a place to leave stuff during the day,” said councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the district, proposed the new use for the building and sits on the city's homelessness committee.
He said daytime storage would allow the homeless the freedom to seek out other services, like housing and employment.
Ryavec complains the facility will be a magnet for crime. He points to data from LAPD’s Pacific Division showing that Venice's boardwalk area has become an “intensifying hot spot” for criminal activity.
“Transients tend to want to stay near their stuff,” he said. “It would only become worse with a storage facility.”
Earlier this month, his group sent a letter to Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, chairman of the city's Arts, Parks and River Committee demanding the city halt plans to convert the Westminster Senior Center into a storage facility.
The only secure storage for homeless in Venice at the moment is a converted shipping container located between some tennis courts on the boardwalk. It’s open for one hour a day Tuesday through Saturday. Homeless people who store belongings there come when it's open to retrieve things they need and drop other items off.
The nonprofit who runs it, Venice Community Housing Corporation, gets no city funding for it, so the hours are limited, according to its president, Becky Dennis. She said it can serve about 35 people at a time.
“Westminster would at least expand [capacity] by ten times,” she said. “It would make a good dent in the need.”
The only city-funded storage facility for the homeless is on Skid Row. It's operated by the local nonprofit Chrysalis. Molly Moen, a Chrysalis spokesperson, said the nonprofit has been talking with Bonin about running the potential Venice site.
“Our goal is to go to places where there are large concentrations of homeless individuals and where homeless people have expressed a desire for support,” she said.
UCLA Law Professor Gary L. Blasi said Venice's current skirmish over where to place homeless storage is not unlike the problems of building housing for the formerly homeless or very low income.
“The only thing that makes people non-homeless is housing,” he said. “Antipathy to development strangles the housing market.”
Blasi said anti-development attitudes often come from residents living in so-called "bohemian" neighborhoods that are now experiencing gentrification and rising property values.
“They [residents] want the gloss of an edgier neighborhood," he said,"without the realities.”