City Council approves building of controversial West LA housing facility for homeless

The Los Angeles City Council Friday approved a hotly debated interim housing facility for homeless Angelenos near Pico and Westwood boulevards in West Los Angeles, which has sparked opposition and frustration among some local residents.

The council voted 14-0, with Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson absent during the vote, to fund nearly $4.6 million for the construction, lease and operation of the proposed housing project. The council also concurred with a recommendation from the Bureau of Engineering to exempt the project from the California Environmental Quality Act, which would help expedite the development process.

The project is expected to open in 2024.

Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky introduced, who represents the Fifth District, which encompasses portions of West L.A., addressed opponents and supports of the project sitting in the Council Chamber.

"For those who are opposed to the project, I want you to know that I hear you and I know many of you are very concerned and frustrated. I know those concerns come from a very real place," Yaroslavsky said, who introduced the project in July.

The councilwoman emphasized she is committed to doing right by her constituents and the entire neighborhood of Midvale and Rancho Pico, where the project would be located at 2377 Midvale Ave., near Pico and Westwood boulevards.

Yaroslavsky said she would secure additional parking for businesses on Pico Boulevard before breaking ground. Additionally, she would work with the Los Angeles Police Department and the service provider to develop a "robust neighborhood security plan."

"And if it becomes clear after this project opens that it isn't working, we'll make any necessary adjustments or, if absolutely necessary, we'll shut it down," Yaroslavsky said.

A 33-unit interim housing facility would be developed on a city-owned parking lot and include three laundry units, storage, a pet area, office/case management conferencing space, dining areas and security fencing.

Backed by Mayor Karen Bass and some community members, Yaroslavsky has stated the project is needed for interim homeless housing in the Fifth District.

"I wouldn't be here fighting hard to build them if they weren't (necessary)," Yaroslavsky said. "Of the 16,000 interim beds currently operational in the city of Los Angeles, only one half of 1% are in Council District 5 -- that's less than 100."

She noted none of those beds serve the general population -- adults between the ages of 18 to 55.

"What this means for my constituents, not only in Westwood, but across the entire (Fifth) district is that when we are trying to resolve an encampment and bring people inside off the street, and into housing, it's nearly impossible," Yaroslavsky said.

Many Midvale and Rancho Pico neighborhood residents have raised concerns over public safety and impacts to nearby businesses.

Last week, the Westside Neighborhood Council voted 12-2 to oppose the project.

Residents have concerns the project will only bring occupants who have a "criminal history and substance abuse problems," according to Jay Jacoby, an alternate member of the neighborhood council.

Additionally, opponents say the loss of the parking lot would negatively impact local businesses such as nearby restaurants and the West Pavilion.

Others fear their children will not be able to walk or ride their bicycles in peace around the neighborhood or as they travel to nearby schools Overland Elementary School or Westwood Charter Elementary School, which are less than a mile away from the facility.

During the Westside Neighborhood Council meeting, opponents of the project proposed using a fleet of trailers, purchased by the city to house unhoused Angelenos during the pandemic, as a better alternative to the Midvale- Pico housing facility. According to the coalition, the trailers are currently idle and unused.

Trailers could be parked along Cotner Avenue, and provide housing to a large squatter encampment that's already there on Cotner, the coalition said, which is located just about 10 blocks from the housing facility site.

A representative from Yaroslavsky's office said they are exploring that option but as an additional housing opportunity for homeless.

Wednesday, the city's Transportation Commission voted unanimously, 4- 0, to concur with the Bureau of Engineering's report to exempt the project from CEQA, after a prior vote to hold the item until information was provided into their role in the development in the project

It wasn't without controversy, as Bass' administration removed Eric Eisenberg from his role as president of the Board of Transportation Commissioners. Bass' office did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

According to Yaroslavsky's office, the commission needed to vote on the project because the commissioners held discretionary use over the parking lot.

Eisenberg, who served on the commission since 2013 and recently reappointed by Bass, told the L.A. Times he was removed "because of his role in delaying the vote."

"My integrity matters more than my position as a voluntary commissioner," Eisenberg said. "Yeah, it's fun to be a commissioner, but it's not that much fun that I'm going to sell out my community."

In a statement, Eisenberg said he reviewed the Midvale-Pico project, and he became "convinced that a 33-unit homeless project boarding single- family residents on two sides should not qualify for a CEQA exemption."

Opponents claim the parking lot was the former site of a gas station, and it requires further environmental scrutiny before development takes place.

"We have good reason to believe a lawsuit will be filed within days to stop this project in its tracts," Vita Lucia, a leader of the Midvale-Pico Coalition said in a statement.

On Oct. 4, the council's Housing and Homelessness Committee voted unanimously to support the interim housing proposal.

Before that vote, Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who sits on the committee, reminded concerned residents that the city is in a crisis.

"We have to lean in and do this everywhere. It's not easy to do it as a council member, and I applaud Councilwoman Yaroslavsky for coming forward to bring this project (online) -- there's no project like this in her district," Blumenfield said.

He added the proposal would create a 1,000-foot 41.18 zone around the facility -- a city law that prohibits camping, sleeping and placing belongings in designated areas.

Kay Hartman, president of the Palms Neighborhood Council, who spoke for herself during that meeting, said change can be hard, but change can and will benefit the city as a whole.

"I don't live very far from Pico. I can walk to it. I sometimes park in the lot under discussion. Interim housing is needed. This one project by itself won't make much of a difference but many such projects might. It should be built," Hartman said.