“Highway to Heaven” or “Roadmap to Hell?”

By Jim Smith

 

On March 22 the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) took another stab at addressing the biggest controversy in our community in recent years – RVs and homelessness. Some outraged voices maintain that the treatment of those living in their vehicles by the L.A. Council office and by the Los Angeles Police Department amounts to a human disaster for the poor. Others object to the presence of RVs anywhere in Venice and blame the occupants for criminal behavior.

Advocates of compassionate treatment of homeless people and RV live-aboards were given an unequal playing field at the council meeting. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and his chief-of-staff, Mike Bonin, both of whom seem to have catered to those who want the homeless removed, were given unlimited time to present their arguments, as were representatives of “People Assisting The Homeless,” (PATH) including its Chief Executive Officer Joel Roberts and others.

When “the public” got to speak, they only got one minute each, not enough time to present a cogent argument in opposition to the plan, now dubbed “Roadmap to Housing.”

The next day, the same scene repeated itself, although in miniature form, at the Los Angeles City Hall building, which is about 18 miles to the east. A handful of pro and con Venetians managed the trip to the City’s Transportation Committee, where they were rewarded with a whole two minutes of speaking time. Nothing much happened except that Rosendahl asked the assistant city attorney to take language out of the proposed “Roadmap” ordinance about legal parking on the streets because the anti-homeless residents didn’t like it. Another meeting of the Transportation Committee will be held on April 13.

For the past several months, the LAPD has been implementing Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s “carrot and stick” approach which includes citing RVs for vehicle and parking infractions, banging on their RVs in the middle of the night, making threats of arrest if they remain in Venice, as well as towing their vehicles to a San Fernando Valley storage yard where the nearly indigent are charged around $800 to reclaim their vehicle/home. Some have called this a “streets to jail” program.

As a result, the number of RVs in Venice has shrunk from more than 200 according to a survey last July to around 20 today. This reduces the number of potential participants in the “Roadmap” program, which is now designed to accommodate only eight vehicles at each of Rosendahl’s two offices, one in West L.A. and one in Westchester.

Even residents who do not live in their RVs report harassment and unfair ticketing of their vehicles. One couple in central Venice who use their RV daily to go to work have found tickets on it for parking in one place for 72 hours when the actual time parked was between eight and nine hours.

In addition, new signs have sprouted up on streets around Venice that prohibit vehicle taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet from parking from 2 – 6 am. This restriction of access was done without Coastal Commission approval.

Some of the RV live-aboards, harassed on all sides, have exchanged their large vehicle/homes for vans, pickups with camper shells and other cars that are not too tall or too long.

The subject of the VNC meeting was a new proposal from Rosendahl for a “Roadmap to Housing” program, formerly called “streets to homes.” Initially, it included provisions for some legalized street parking but was modified after complaints from anti-RV residents. It now includes only the two office sites outside of Venice.

Some anti-homeless residents had been vocal during the past several years about Santa Monica “dumping” its homeless on Venice. None of them objected to Venice RVs being “dumped” on West Los Angeles or Westchester.

Opposition to the “Roadmap” and accompanying 85.11 ordinance came from RV live-aboards and supporters who said that the program would remove the poor from Venice. None of the housing being sought for live-aboards is in Venice, apparently. Nor is there much of an outreach program to local landlords to sign on to the program even though it can give them a guaranteed rent payment. Also called to the VNC’s attention by several speakers was the alleged misuse of the public Venice Area Surplus Real Property Fund, which is to be used only in Venice.

The arguments seemed to have an effect on the Board, which had been prepared to vote in favor of the “Roadmap.” In the end, no vote was taken. Another meeting will be held in April.

About 85 people packed the meeting. Attendance slowly dwindled during the three and a half hour marathon. One of those staying to the bitter end was Rosendahl.

Chairperson Linda Lucks maintained her streak of throwing a stakeholder out of each meeting. This time it was Ocean Front Walk vendor, Mark Herd, who was apparently too impassioned in his one-minute comparison of the treatment and removal of the poor to the 19th century treatment of Native Americans and to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. His expulsion was the only action seen by any of the 18 LAPD officers who stood in the back of the room for the first two hours. Their presence added more than $2,000 to the cost of the meeting and lessened the number of cops on patrol in Venice.

 

Problems with the “Roadmap

to Housing” program

1. It increases gentrification of Venice to the detriment of the poor and working people.

2. It is at least two years too late to resolve the RV parking issue without dividing Venice.

3. Its housing component takes long-time residents out of their community.

4. It is paid for out of a fund which by ordinance can only be spent in Venice.

This “roadmap” is part of a larger city effort to rid Venice of those who are forced to live in their cars. At least one-third of RV live-aboards previously had an apartment in Venice, according to a survey by St. Joseph’s Center.

A major part of the reason for a growing vehicle-as-a-home phenomenon is Rosendahl’s failure, and that of his colleagues on the L.A. City Council, to lobby the legislature to repeal or modify the anti-rent control Costa-Hawkins Act, which prohibits vacancy control of rental units. As a result of exorbitant rents, a growing number of Venetians have found it necessary to live in vehicles or even the streets.

Growing hostility toward those without fixed addresses from some homeowners and some of those still able to pay their rents has played into the hands of developers and city officials who want to divide Venice. A number of Venetians have met with Rosendahl and his staff during the last several years to urge him to create a program in which those living in RVs could be safe from individual and police harassment.

They have suggested to him numerous lots and streets away from residences without result. Meanwhile, through Rosendahl’s notorious “carrot and stick” program, he has encouraged the police to become involved in a social issue that has taken them away from fighting crime, e.g. robberies, break-ins, assaults and murders. He has let the divisions in Venice fester while trying to increase city revenue with overnight pay parking schemes which most Venice residents did not want, but had to spend two years defeating.

Now, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a public agency, has been given $750,000 by Rosendahl and the Council to implement the “Roadmap” program. LAHSA subcontracted to People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), a nonprofit group, and gave it $650,000 (What did LAHSA do that allowed it to take a $100,000 cut?).

Joel Roberts, the CEO of PATH, says that permanent housing is the goal of this program. This is a laudable goal, particularly if it is coupled with public assistance, jobs, health care and educational opportunities. However, there is no emphasis in Robert’s approach, nor in the entire “Roadmap,” to assisting vehicle live-aboards in their own community. For many potential “clients” in this program, occupying a Section 8 housing unit in the San Fernando Valley, or other distant location, means being torn away from their friends, their neighborhood, and indeed, all that is familiar to them. If this program is to be successful it must include an active effort by the Council office and by PATH to contact Venice landlords and get them to agree to provide at least one Section 8 housing unit. With enough effort, sufficient housing units surely can be found right here in Venice.

Misappropriation

of Public Funds?

Finally, the majority of the funding for the entire “Roadmap” program is illegal. The Venice Area Surplus Real Property Fund can only be used within Venice. None of the major expenditures of this program take place here. PATH does not have an office in Venice. It’s staff are not from Venice. The parking lots under consideration for RVs are not in Venice. And now, because of aggressive policing, most of the RVs are no longer in Venice.

In short, little or none of the activities or expenditures fall under the definition of legitimate use of the Fund. Yet, $450,000 has been appropriated to LAHSA for a program that largely takes place outside of Venice <http://bit.ly/b26FiD&gt;.

The “Roadmap” can by no stretch of the imagination be considered to be “generally within the Venice Area,” as defined in the ordinance. The Fund is also known as Los Angeles Administrative Code, Section 5.121. See Sidebar for its exact language.

Further evidence of the Venice Fund misappropriation is contained in the draft 85.11 ordinance itself. It refers not to Venice or the Venice Area but to the 11th Council District as a whole, a clear misuse of the Fund.

The draft ordinance states in section C:

(6) In order to qualify for eligibility to enroll in the Roadmap to Housing Program, a person must establish one of the following conditions:

(i) The person resided in a vehicle in the Eleventh Council District as of July 20, 2010; or

(ii) The person resided in a dwelling, not a vehicle, in the Eleventh Council District as of the effective date of this Section and later became homeless and forced to reside in a vehicle.

 

In summary, the “Roadmap” and the draft ordinance, 85.11, both show misappropriation of public funds, to wit, the Venice Area Surplus Real Property Fund.

———–

SIDEBAR:

ARTICLE 5
VENICE AREA SURPLUS REAL PROPERTY FUND

Sec. 5.121.  Creation and Use of Fund.

All net proceeds collected from the sales of real properties located in the Venice area of the City of Los Angeles and such grant funds as approved by the City Council, shall be placed in a trust fund to be known as the “Venice Area Surplus Real Property Fund,” which fund is hereby created and which fund shall be used for the purposes as set forth hereafter.

1.     The “Venice Area” is hereby defined and described as being that portion of the City of Los Angeles bounded northwesterly by the common boundary of the City of Santa Monica and the City of Los Angeles, northeasterly by the center line of Lincoln Boulevard, southeasterly and northeasterly by the City boundary adjacent to the county’s “Marina del Rey,” southeasterly by the entrance channel of the “Marina del Rey” and southwesterly by the last natural mean high-tide line of the Pacific Ocean.

2.     “Surplus Real Property” is defined as those parcels of real property owned by the City of Los Angeles and neither dedicated to public use, such as recreation and park use or public street use, nor permanently devoted to some public use.

3.     “Net proceeds” shall mean the gross sale price received for a parcel of real property minus escrow charges, title policy charges, appraisal charges, advertising costs, and any and all other costs and expenses attributable to conducting the sale and/or leading up to the sale of the property.

4.     Upon adoption of a resolution by the City Council, the net proceeds from the sale of any of the properties mentioned above shall be devoted exclusively to capital or non-capital projects or purchases generally within the “Venice Area” for purposes which will be of benefit to citizens of the City of Los Angeles or tourists to the Venice Beach area.

5.     The Fund shall be administered by the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Financial Management and Personnel Services, in accordance with the prior approval by the City Council pursuant to Subdivision 4. of this Section.

 

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