Homelessness has been increasing in areas such as Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey

Businesses and hotels in Marina del Rey are sounding an alarm against what they perceive as an ill-advised proposal to convert a parking lot in the marina into a homeless camping site.

The proposal was submitted by CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin who identified Fisherman’s Village as one of several seaside locations where County-owned parking lots could be converted into safe camping or tiny home sites for unhoused individuals. Officials have since said the site could move to a parking lot nearby if not Fisherman’s Village.

The Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau sent a letter to Supervisor Janice Hahn on behalf of the local business community urging her to oppose the proposal, which they fear could deter tourists and jeopardize their economic recovery.

Fisherman’s Village is a brightly colored replica of a New England fishing village that attracts families and visitors with a variety of watersports and dining options.

“Building homeless housing within a small tourist destination surrounded by visitor attractions and accommodations where supportive services for the homeless are not available within the vicinity is a poorly thought-out solution for both the business sector and the homeless population in need of assistance,” said MDR Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Janet Zaldua in the letter to Hahn.

Jen Kirkley-Vaughan, the Co-owner of Pro SUP Shop, voiced several concerns about the proposal both on the behalf of local businesses and unhoused individuals.

“I’ve never seen a homeless solution take place in the middle of a busy tourist area where you have hotels and boat recreation and a boat launch,” said Kirkley-Vaughan. “I worry about our economy here. I worry about the vitality of our small businesses.”

She said she also worries about how emergency vehicles would be able to access fire and medical emergencies at the homeless housing site, as the only main road around the Marina is frequently congested during the summer. Additionally, since there are no homeless service providers in the Marina, she fears it will be challenging for unhoused individuals to receive the support they need to transition into permanent housing.

Part of the reason why there are no providers in the Marina is because homelessness has historically not been as widespread as in nearby areas such as Venice. The Sheriff’s department has consistently enforced no overnight camping regulations, which has prevented the formation of encampments.

During the pandemic, however, there has been an uptick in the number of unhoused individuals in Marina del Rey.

“At our local Visitor Center we’ve had issues with the homeless defecating on the sidewalks, urinating on the floor of our visitors center, drinking, public intoxication, and things like that,” said Zaldua.

Local business owners worry about how this will affect visitors and said in the letter to Hahn that they would like to work with County officials to create homelessness solutions.

They proposed taking a percentage of the Marina’s Transient Occupancy Tax revenue and dedicating it to supportive services for homeless individuals. Another proposed solution was revitalizing the MDR Sheriff substation’s homelessness task force, which existed from 2014 to 2015.

Business owners have noted a greater presence of unhoused individuals in Burton Chace Park and on Mother’s Beach, in addition to growing issues with the nearby RV encampment in the Ballona.

“There have been incidents where you can tell there are mental health challenges or drinking or drug abuse,” said Kirkley-Vaughan, whose business is located on Mother’s Beach. “We’ll have five or six sheriffs come over and it is very disruptive (to business). I’ve gotten used to it, but I could see that it’s alarming for families that are coming in.”

Thea Hartley, who owns The Cow’s End Cafe on Washington Blvd along the border between Venice and Marina del Rey, is also opposed to Bonin’s proposal.

She has experienced many incidents with dangerous unhoused individuals, including an extremely traumatic incident in 2015 where her husband had his finger bitten off and bleeding in his brain caused by an attack from a homeless man.

Having worked at the Cow’s End for 32 years, Hartley said the local homelessness problem is the worst it has ever been.

“I’m totally against it (Fisherman’s village proposal). It’s not temporary, nothing’s ever temporary,” said Hartley. “It’s going to be there for a very long time and I feel badly for the businesses that are there.”

Zaldua of the MDR Convention and Visitors Bureau said that the proposal has already caused business clients to raise concerns to Marina hotels about bringing business meetings to their properties. She added that the homelessness crisis in Venice is also affecting demand at nearby Marina hotels.

“Our hotels will no longer refer their guests to Venice Beach, because of the liability due to the increase in violence,” said Zaldua.

Tourism represents a huge portion of the Marina del Rey economy and prior to the pandemic hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions supported around 3,000 jobs.

Prior to the pandemic, Marina del Rey was also the largest revenue generator for Los Angeles County, outside of property taxes. In 2019 its land leases generated $62 million and transient occupancy tax generated $11.3 million.

During 2020 hotel occupancy dropped by over 50 percent and led to a reduction of $7.3 million in transient occupancy tax.

Zaldua argues that it is in the County’s interest to support the economic recovery of Marina del Rey’s tourism sector as its contribution to the general fund is distributed toward infrastructure and supportive services across the County.

“Marina del Rey generates an incredible amount of revenue for Los Angeles County,” said Zaldua. “We think we deserve a voice at the table to talk about homelessness solutions.”

Clara@smdp.com