LA City Planning began community hearings last week for the Reese-Davidson Community, a proposed 140 unit building with 68 units for homeless individuals, 34 for low-income artists, and 34 for other low-income households.

The 2.8 acre project will cost an estimated $39,337,314 to develop on what is currently a City-owned beach parking lot on the Venice Canals. The site would also feature an arts center, small scale retail, and a parking garage.

The proposal, which was developed by the Hollywood Community Housing Corp and Venice Community Housing Corp, has starkly divided the local community.

In the Jan. 13 community hearing 42 callers supported the project and 48 callers opposed it.

Supporters cited a dire need to house more homeless individuals and ensure the neighborhood remains affordable. They believe the project will protect community diversity and preserve the artistic character of a gentrifying neighborhood.

Those in opposition call the project “The Monster on the Canals”. They believe it is economically inefficient, environmentally detrimental, and will increase neighborhood crime without significantly reducing local homelessness.

Both sides seek to support the Venice community and address issues around homelessness, but are disagree on three key questions.

Will the project alleviate or exacerbate neighborhood homelessness and crime?

Venice Community Housing Corporation plans to offer job training and life skills, physical and mental health services, addiction treatment, and one-on-one case management for residents of the 68 supportive housing units for the formerly homeless.

“I can assure you that the services that will be provided and the maintenance of the building and the monitoring of the safety will be incredibly superb. It’s an incredibly devoted staff with great skills,” said Mike Suhd, VCHC Board Member and Venice resident.

Other community members are less assured and spoke of spikes in crime and 911 calls around VCHC’s other buildings.

Mistrust also stems from the results of the Bridge Home homeless shelter in Venice, which is run by People Assisting the Homeless and Safe Place for Youth and opened in late February 2020.

While Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin promised the shelter would improve issues around homelessness, LAPD reported an 88 percent increase in violent crime in the surrounding area in its first nine months of operation.

Community members also drew attention to the lack of a sober living requirement and the fact that per City regulations the 68 supportive housing units will not be prioritized for people living on the streets in Venice, but be distributed among the Westside’s homeless population.

“Why would you build a mental health facility with no required sobriety, counseling, medication in a dense neighborhood and at the gateway to the second largest tourist attraction in Southern California?” said Venice resident Sean O’Brian.

Worries were also raised over VCHC’s ability to manage a 140 unit building as their current largest building has 32 units.

Is the project cost effective and geographically appropriate?

The project comes with an almost $40 million price tag and a Q4 2019 cost assessment estimated development costs at $496,881 per unit.

Some community members feel this is an inefficient use of affordable housing funding and said it would be smarter to use the money to build more units and support more people in a cheaper location. Some individuals said it isn’t the City’s duty to provide homeless and low income housing a block from the beach.

Many of those in favor of the project said they want the affordable units to be in the heart of Venice and see it as a means to preserve the neighborhood’s character.

“I value the economic and racial diversity that has been a hallmark of the Venice community for its entire history and this development will help preserve and in some degree restore that diversity,” said Mary Jane Wangle, a resident of the Venice Canals. “We all depend on the essential work of those who earn minimum wage, who work part time, and who are at greater risk of homelessness. We should not make them live far away and have to travel to serve us.”

Should the project be exempt from CEQA environmental review?

The proposers are seeking exemption from having the project reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act, as per AB1197 exemptions are allowed for supportive housing with funding from the City of Los Angeles.

Some community members voiced alarm at this given the project’s proximity to the beach and location on the canals, which are connected to the Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve.

“To build a humongous and grossly expensive project on land with a high water table in a tsunami zone would be incredibly irresponsible of the City,” said Venice resident Tracy Carpenter. “There should be no CEQA exemption since only a small percentage of the project is actually supportive housing for the homeless.”

VCHC believes LA City Planning’s 2018 initial Environmental Impact Report is sufficient and that an exemption from CEQA will help the project to proceed faster and support homeless and low income individuals sooner.

In any scenario the project will not be able to house anyone any time soon.

Four years have passed since the bid to develop the plot was initiated.

Before construction starts the Deputy Advisory Agency of the Planning Department needs to decide on the CEQA exemption and the project needs to pass through the Planning Commission, Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the City Council, City Council, and Coastal Commission.

Clara@smdp.com