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Outcry at Los Angeles Westside over Bonin’s homeless plan


For nearly 20 years, Matt Stayner and his wife have been sending their children to Westchester Park – Easter egg hunt in the spring, pool outings in the summer, big community parade on July 4th.

But after seeing dozens of tents pitching through the park last year, Stayner decided he no longer wanted his daughters to go unaccompanied. He became even more alarmed after learning that the park is one of many recreational areas being considered for “safe camping,” a program that allows homeless people to pitch their tents and receive social services.

Now Stayner is volunteering with a group looking to recall Los Angeles City Councilor Mike Bonin who came up with the idea. And he asked the neighbors to oppose Bonin’s proposal.

“Parents are frustrated. We have lost our park, ”said the 54-year-old father of four. “We have lost our park and I would like to see some action.”

Los Angeles ‘struggle to tame its growing homelessness crisis collides with Angelenos’ love of their outdoor recreation spaces, which have served as a lifeline for many during stay-at-home orders. the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Echo Park, many residents have requested and are now receiving cleaning around Lake Echo Park, where nearly 200 tents and an assortment of furniture lined walkways and landscaped areas for much of the past year. This effort has drawn hundreds of protesters and for now the park remains closed.

On the west side, Bonin went in a different direction, proposing that two parks, three beach parking lots and a waterfront parking lot in Marina del Rey be assessed as possible locations for sanctioned overnight camping, the small houses or overnight parking for people living in their vehicles, depending on location.

The proposal, which heads for a city council vote later this month, has sparked an uproar in parts of the Bonin neighborhood, which stretches from Los Angeles International Airport to Pacific Palisades.

City Councilor Mike Bonin wants to know whether to set up sanctioned overnight camping in a section of Westchester Park, where dozens of tents have sprung up in recent years.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Some opponents have warned the proposal would limit public access to beaches and parks. Others said they feared their communities would become the next Venice, a neighborhood in the Bonin neighborhood with several settlements that has seen an increase in crime and an outbreak of fires.

At Pacific Palisades, a virtual meeting on the proposal drew around 475 people, speaker after speaker denouncing the idea of ​​tiny houses or overnight camping in Will Rogers’ parking lot. The Pacific Palisades Community Council overwhelmingly opposed this idea.

The Brentwood Community Council took its own vote a few days later, asking that any mention of parks or recreation spaces be removed from Bonin’s proposal. During the evening, several expressed their concern over the recent murder of a homeless man in a camp located next to the property of the Federal Veterans Administration.

Supporters of Bonin’s proposal have grown frustrated with the refusal, saying recreational activities still take place in Westchester Park and that the homeless there and elsewhere are as concerned about their safety as anyone.

The way to reduce the number of camps is to first give the homeless a stable place to live – motel rooms, designated safe camping areas or other places – so that they can eventually spawn. a path to permanent housing, said Stephanie Popescu, a Playa. Del Rey resident and co-founder of the Grass Roots Neighbors non-profit organization.

“If we don’t want to become like Venice, we have to tackle this problem head-on,” said Popescu, whose group provides food and supplies to people living in Westchester Park. “By simply saying no to any solution, without having a reasonable alternative plan, we are setting ourselves up for failure.”

Sara Chapman, who has lived in Westchester for 25 years and is also supportive of Bonin’s proposal, said the town “has to start somewhere” given the scale of the crisis.

“I think a lot of people think that if we create safe campsites, more people will come,” she said. “Guess what? They’re already here. So not dealing with them and doing something is not the solution.”

Bonin, in an interview, said he was determined to ensure his district provides its fair share in the fight against homelessness. Opponents are drawing negative conclusions, he said, before the city even looked into details of how a campsite, RV park or small domestic community operated.

Outcry at Los Angeles Westside over Bonin’s homeless plan

Kenneth Flinchum, 38, said Westchester Park is much safer than the promenade in Venice. Flinchum has been living in the park since last summer.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The proposal calls for an assessment of possible services for the homeless in Westchester Park and Mar Vista Park; beach parking lots at Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey and Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades; waterfront parking at Marina del Rey and a property at LAX.

If the motion is approved, city analysts will assess each location to determine if it makes sense and, if so, how many homeless people it would serve, Bonin said. And if one section of a park is ultimately chosen for overnight homeless camping, the rest of that same park would have city law enforcement on camping and tents, Bonin said.

“What I have proposed is designed to reduce encampments, so that our public spaces can return to full public use,” Bonin said in an email to voters this week.

So far, critics of the proposal have found at least one ally in town hall – Councilor Joe Buscaino, who also represents coastal neighborhoods. When Bonin’s proposal was presented to the council’s homeless committee on Thursday, Buscaino cast the only vote against, saying city leaders should be able to deal with the crisis without depriving residents of space. open recreational.

“We should be looking to take vacant land, vacant buildings, not some of the most popular and busiest parks and famous beaches in the world,” Buscaino said.

Bonin’s proposal has a long way to go.

The process of site assessment and project proposal is expected to take several months. Some sites may need the support of Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn or Sheila Kuehl, who are responsible for county-owned beach parking lots.

The Coastal Commission may also have to intervene. Some are already arguing that a reduction in beach parking, which can cost $ 7 on weekdays during low season, would reduce beach access for working-class families who live further inland. .

“Will Rogers Beach is a place where everyone, for the entire city of Los Angeles, can come together,” said Reza Akef, who serves on the Pacific Palisades Community Council. “For $ 7 you can park and literally walk to the beach in two minutes.”

In Westchester, Bonin’s proposal dominated two virtual meetings of the local neighborhood council, which also represents the neighborhoods of Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. During a session, attended by around 450 people on Zoom, activists in Venice called and warned the council not to trust Bonin, saying new homeless facilities would be accompanied by a increase in violent crime.

Outcry at Los Angeles Westside over Bonin’s homeless plan

“Parents are frustrated,” said Matt Stayner, a Westchester resident, sitting in the park with his wife Kay Yang-Stayner and daughters Rachel, 9, Hannah, 14, and Sarah, 10.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The neighborhood council voted by 18 to 3 to oppose safe camping or other new initiatives for the homeless in Westchester Park, Dockweiler Beach and elsewhere. Shortly before the vote, board member David Voss said he had not seen residents so united against a proposal since the city councilor introduced “road regimes” – a reduction in the number lanes reserved for vehicles – on the main boulevards of its district.

“Today, like many of you, I have received hundreds of emails,” he said. “I can’t go to the grocery store without people coming up to me and saying, ‘What are you doing about this?'”

Westchester Park has been a community center for generations of families, providing not only playgrounds, but a library, senior center, skate park and tennis courts. The park is also one of the city’s secure parking lots, allowing homeless people who live in their cars to stay overnight in a parking lot next to the public swimming pool.

Those who set up the camp in the park itself described it as much more peaceful than a highway overpass or other outdoor locations.

Lisa Hope, 51, said she moved to Westchester Park after finding her former campsite in the Ballona Wetlands was too dangerous.

Hope sought to get out of the park and join Project Roomkey, the program that provides hotel and motel rooms to homeless people in the city. Yet she described safe camping as a reasonable compromise, allowing housed and homeless people to coexist in Westchester.

“There has to be a place to go,” she said.

Kenneth Flinchum, who lives near the tennis courts, said he would also be open to a safe camping program. Flinchum, an electrician who moved to Los Angeles last year, said he found Venice too chaotic. And he acknowledged that some parents did not want their children to be near the homeless in the park.

A safe camping program “takes us away from them and away from us,” he said. “I hate to say it like that.”

Bonin, for his part, intends to continue looking for additional sites. But he argued that an ongoing federal homelessness lawsuit makes the need for a temporary shelter more urgent. Because Westside real estate is so expensive, he says, the city needs to consider its public spaces.

“I’m not an enthusiastic promoter of any of these places,” he added. “But there is no better alternative on the Westside. And if there is, I can’t wait to hear it.

Editor Doug Smith contributed to this report.





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