I met Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin last week outside of his West Los Angeles office for a tour of homeless housing in his 11th District.
No council member takes more heat on the homeless issue than Bonin, whose district extends from around the Pacific Palisades through Brentwood, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Venice. Venice, in particular, is a hothouse of homeless controversy. Homeless live on the beach and sidewalks, infuriating the owners and tenants of increasingly upscale homes.
I had written in LA Observed how Councilman Jose Huizar had been working to facilitate construction of homeless housing outside the Skid Row part of his district. I noted there were no plans to build such housing in rich Brentwood or upscale Mar Vista.
I had a point, Bonin emailed, but was incomplete. My column, Bonin said, "is certainly missing a lot of stuff on the Westside." He said, "The cost of land has made building homeless or permanent supportive housing prohibitively difficult in parts of the city, especially mine, so I have been a very big advocate of using city owned properties for homeless and affordable housing." We agreed he'd drive me around the districts and show me some projects.
We looked at the old West LA animal shelter at Missouri and Bundy; a big city parking lot in Venice and an abandoned maintenance yard where housing has been proposed but neighbors object. Residents also worry about the loss of parking spaces in Venice but Bonin said the spaces would be replaced in the proposed new development.
He concedes that his efforts, like those of other councilmembers and Mayor Eric Garcetti, have fallen short.
"There is no emergency-like response, " he said as we looked at the Missouri and Bundy site. "There is no FEMA-like response, " he said, referring to the federal relief agency which steps in with aid for disasters such as hurricanes. "Yet it is a FEMA-like emergency that requires a FEMA-like response." The last homeless census showed more than 34,000 in the city of Los Angeles, part of the 57,000-plus in the entire county, a 23 percent increase from the year before.
The site at Missouri and Bundy offered hope. A total of 81 units for the working poor and homeless are expected to be built. The neighbors are pretty much on board, and permits are being expedited because the site is on a "transit corridor," near the Bundy metro station. But construction won't start until 2019. "We need to put the financing together," Bonin said.
That's a matter that bugs Angelenos who voted for a $1.2 billion bond, Measure HHH, to build housing for the homeless. A ponderous regulatory bureaucracy stands between the money and actual construction. In addition, a provision in the controversial tax bill in Congress threatens to eliminate some of the federal aid needed to put together the public-private packages that will finance this and similar projects.
Meanwhile the number of homeless continues to grow. "There is much more of a demand than there is supply," Bonin said. I saw this Sunday, as my wife Nancy and I walked to the market. Three large tents had gone up on Olympic Boulevard, under the 405 Freeway. More encampments are in other places along the freeway. Bonin was right when he said this is an emergency.