This is a bigger upset than if the Magic had beaten the Lakers: last Friday, the California Coastal Commission ignored its own staff recommendation and the will of Venice voters by overwhelmingly denying the request by the City of Los Angeles to create “overnight parking districts” (“OPDs”) on several Venice streets that would have prohibited unpermitted vehicles during the wee hours.
Here is the video of the 4-hour Commission hearing (click on the June 11 link and forward to 40:00). Because the proposed OPDs are in the “coastal zone,” the City needed a Coastal Development Permit from the Commission to establish the OPDs. However, the Commission was limited to considering whether the OPDs would hinder public beach access. Nevertheless, the hearing, which featured scores of Venice residents speaking for a couple of minutes each, quickly turned into an emotional debate about homelessness, gentrification, and rich versus poor.
Representatives of the City explained that the OPD plan ensures that parking alternatives were made available for the vehicles that would be displaced from residential streets in the OPDs for several hours at night. City Council member Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, said that Venice is not “anti-homeless.” He listed Venice’s homeless service center, homeless feeding programs, its free clinic, “and an array of social services.” Rosendahl repeated his idea for designated areas, such as church and municipal parking lots, for people to be able to sleep overnight in their vehicles and receive counseling and social services.
LAPD Captain Joe Hildner and LAPD officer Theresa Skinner explained that a great deal of LAPD’s time in Venice concerns vehicles camping on the streets, including lack of parking for residents, “leaking septic tanks,” trash, and “the stench of urine.” Numerous Venice residents also spoke out to express concern about both inadequate parking and poor sanitary conditions in their neighborhoods resulting from vehicle camping.
The anti-OPD side came armed with slides and numerous hand-held “NOPD” signs. Venice resident Peggy Lee Kennedy stated that she was not shown any study regarding the adverse effects of the proposed OPDs, which she said is required under the California Environmental Quality Act. She claimed that the OPDs “would be putting one of the final nails in our coffin of gentrification.” Kennedy said that the City should have explored other ways to address the purported residential parking shortage in Venice.
Most of the “NOPD” speakers focused on poverty, homelessness, and gentrification. One renter in Venice said that the City is trying to squeeze poor people out. Another resident said that the OPD measure “criminalizes poverty.” One woman who lives in her vehicle in Venice said that people are trying to “turn Venice into Santa Monica.” Only a few speakers addressed the actual issue before the Commission: whether the OPD proposal denies public access to the beach.
When it was the Commissioners’ turn, the OPD proposal did not fare well. Commissioner Mary Shallenberger stated that the OPDs would effectively “privatize Venice Beach” during the night. Commissioner Ben Hueso argued that the OPD plan would have “a chilling effect” on giving people access to the coast. Commissioner Sara Wan stated that this is a social issue for the City, not a Coastal Act issue for the Commission. Commissioner William Burke stated that the OPD plan raises coastal access issues and should be improved. Commissioner Dave Potter said that the Commission “had been thrown under the social bus.” Commissioner Steven Kram agreed that the Commission should not be used to solve social problems, and that the OPD plan would hinder coastal access. The Commission’s final vote was 9 against the OPD proposal, 1 for, and 1 abstention, after which the room erupted into applause.
It’s appalling that many people are homeless and have to live in vehicles. I would love to see more money and effort spent on giving these people real housing solutions. However, Friday’s vote was not about solving social problems. It was about a vehicle problem on Venice streets. The City designated hundreds of suitable public parking spots in Venice, in public lots and at meters, very close to the beach, for unpermitted vehicles to park overnight for free. The Commission’s decision Friday ignored the concerns of Venice residents and visitors, and needlessly pits them against the homeless. Why should Venice streets be the nation’s free vehicle campground? Perhaps the City should have disposed of the “coastal access” issue more thoroughly, so that it could address these more important issues.
In any event, I’ll repeat what I have said all along: allowing people to camp permanently in cars and RVs on Venice’s residential streets is a poor solution to a genuine problem.