For Tracy Carpenter and Nikki Shallenberger, the appeals hearing for the Lincoln Project Apartments on Thursday will be a dramatic, David vs. Goliath showdown. The two moms are in the fight of their lives, a struggle that affects the safety of the 800 children who attend a nearby school, live in their neighborhood, or both.
The mothers are opposed to the building of the Lincoln Apartments project at 2469 Lincoln Boulevard. The $20 million project is in partnership with the Venice Community Housing Corporation (VCHC) and Safe Place for Youth (SPY). The apartment building would share a property line with St. Mark School and would be located in a neighborhood where dozens of other children live and play.
“We’re not attorneys or land-use consultants.” “We are mothers concerned for our children’s safety and the eight-hundred children who live or go to school in this neighborhood.”
The proposed project would consist of 39 apartment units of affordable housing, with 19 apartments set aside for those experiencing chronic homelessness and 20 for transition-aged (18 to 24) youth.
Part of the funds used to pay for the project would be supplemented by Proposition 2 money, which means the inclusion of adults with serious mental illness requiring acute psychiatric inpatient care. Residents could also be subject to outpatient crisis intervention because they have a mental disorder, are violent or chronically homeless, or are at risk of chronic homelessness.
“It is egregious, reckless and downright dangerous to house drug-abusing and mentally unstable people in a building that shares a property line with an elementary school,” says Shallenberger. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in our community who isn’t interested in discussing solutions to the housing problem, but forcing this project through back-channel ‘nonprofit’ money laundering is wrong—especially when there are elected officials involved.”
Call to Action
When Carpenter first learned about the project, she started an online petition that eventually garnered more than 1,400 opposition signatures. “My neighbors and I wrote letters to [L.A. City Councilman Mike] Bonin and the [Proposition] HHH committee,” says Carpenter. “We went to a backyard chat with Bonin last July, where we expressed our opposition to the project.” During that meeting, Carpenter says Bonin appeared to be displeased by their opposition.
Reasons for concern
Carpenter and Shallenberger say the only thing that they and many other members of the community are concerned about is the safety of their kids. Period.
The SPY center, which currently acts as a drop in facility for teens who are experiencing homelessness is next door to Saint Mark School, an elementary and middle school. Reports obtained for this story show the LAPD and LAFD have been called to SPY 117 times in the last three years for, among other things, an assault with a deadly weapon, violent mentally ill persons, overdoses, battery, burglaries, and vandalism.
In January, a shutdown at St. Mark took place after a SPY client wielding a chain started smashing nearby windows and threatening people. Carpenter says that this was just one of many instances when children have been threatened. The lockdown, as described by Shallenberger, was terrifying because no one knew what was going on.
“It was the most terrifying minutes of my life,” she says. “Children deserve to feel safe at school and at home, and that’s not the case right now. Our school’s position is that they oppose this project because of the myriad threats it poses to the schoolchildren. It is infuriating that we are painted as selfish, greedy NIMBYs who don’t care about the homeless.”
In the last 2 years, Gateway Apartments, one of VCH’s supportive housing project [with 20 units], has had 129 Police and Fire Department responses. Compare that to a market rate apartment building on the same block [ 28 units], and that building had only 11 Police and Fire Department calls in the same time frame. Some of the calls were; missing child, assaults with a deadly weapon, batteries, burglaries and thefts. VCH’s Horizon apartment building has similar egregious police and fire response calls.
A letter sent out by Saint Mark to parents stated: “As Venice residents who deeply recognize the urgent need to address the homeless crisis, we [nonetheless] cannot allow the developers’ good intentions to compromise the safety and security of our school children. … Furthermore, since rumors and speculations are circling around about the official position of the Saint Mark Administration, we feel now is the time to publicly voice our grave concerns and our opposition to this project. This step has been made in close consultation with the leadership of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It gives me no pleasure to oppose this effort to house our fellow human beings. However, in our view, the developers have not demonstrated sufficient compassion for our most vulnerable population, and we need to stand up for the safety of the children who are entrusted to our care.”
Going through the motions
In January, Carpenter says she heard about a community workshop concerning the Lincoln Apartments at the SPY center from VCHC’s email list. Carpenter says she was there for about 90 minutes, along with four other people.
“The lack of people attending made it clear that there was no outreach done in our neighborhood or to St. Mark’s parents,” says Carpenter. “We went into the first Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) meeting with very little information.” LUPC agreed and asked VCH to do more outreach.
The project was eventually voted on and denied by LUPC in a 5-2 vote. It was also voted down by the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) unanimously after hours of testimony from those for and against the project.
“Hundreds of us stayed up until after midnight at that meeting and felt vindicated when they voted unanimously to oppose the project after reviewing the facts and listening to hours of testimony,” says Carpenter. “Even board members who said they supported VCH said they could not support this project due to the clear safety issues and the close proximity to schools and a neighborhood full of children.”
“If you’re putting kids even in a one or two percent greater chance of seeing something horrible or experiencing something horrible, then it’s a no-brainer. It’s surprising it got this far. It’s not the right place.” – VNC Board member
On May 28, the motion went in front of the City Planning Commission (CPC)—and that vote was unanimous. But not in the community group’s favor.
“The CPC meeting was heartbreaking, but not surprising,” says Carpenter. During the meeting, the CPC chastised the opposition, including Carpenter and the Venice Neighborhood Council’s vote, on the record.
“They completely ignored the hundreds of pages of police and fire records that were buried inside the CPC staff report and claimed that there was no evidence of safety issues,” says Carpenter. “Even after Commissioner Marc Mitchell said, ‘I volunteered at SPY, and I have seen disorganization at the site that does lead to safety issues.’”
Unanswered CPRA requests
Carpenter submitted a CPRA request to Bonin’s offie requesting any communications and information his office had in regards to the project.
According to documents obtained for this report, the CPRA request was sent on May 28. On July 2, a response was given to the the CPRA request. According to Carpenter, the response included numerous redacted items. It was also missing emails, including three Carpenter herself wrote. In response, Carpenter once again emailed Bonin’s office. That email was sent on July 7 and read, ” I find it hard to believe that there was basically no communication regarding this project in 2019.” “Personally, I sent three emails to Bonin’s office in 2019 and none of them are included in this report. My public records request is incomplete and I ask that 2019 documents and communications from Bonin and/ or his office regarding Lincoln Apartments be included in a new report.”
Carpenter also stated in her emails that “There are emails missing between Becky Dennison and Mike Bonin and I request that any emails between them regarding Lincoln Apartments from January 2019 until now be included in a new report. These emails should have been part of my original CPRA request on May 28, 2020, but were not included and the absence of them is a violation of the California Public Records Act.”
Bonin’s office responded saying various staff members were working to provide [Carpenter] with the documents she requested that were cut off or illegible. On July 17 and July 27 emails were again sent to Bonin to follow up on the missing or redacted emails. On August 25, Carpenter received a response from the office saying, “It appears that the emails we provided to you are complete.” Carpenter states she never received the emails from 2019 that she requested.
At an appeal hearing this Thursday, September 3, Carpenter and The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will stand before the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee.
“This truly feels like a David and Goliath situation, and the more we uncover, the more impossible it feels, because the web of corruption is so tangled,” says Shallenberger.
The appeal and identified connections and conflicts
- The Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC LA) gave VCH a $4.5 million pre-development loan for this project. One of the conditions of this loan was that they have community support. Carpenter claims this is not the case.
- CPC Commissioner Helen Leung was a paid fellow of LISC LA, and Leung also voted to approve the project.
- The executive director of LISC LA is on the HHH Oversight Commission.
- LISC LA is affiliated with the National Equity Fund, which purchased 99.99 percent of VCH’s Gateway Apartments.
- VCH has a faith-based support letter on its site, which is led by Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries. It states that VCH worked with stakeholders even though they failed to do community outreach, which is the reason LUPC declined to vote on the project originally and sent it back, demanding that VCH do more outreach. Also, this letter states that VCH worked with neighborhood councils, but failed to mention that the Venice Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to oppose the project. It also fails to mention the VNC vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the CPC based on its vote to approve the project. www.vchcorp.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Lincoln-Apartments-Faith-Support-Letter.pdf
- Councilman Bonin’s husband, Sean Arian, is on the board of Homeboy Industries, and as the Executive Director of LA-Tech.org, Arian recently gave $100,000 to Homeboy Industries.
- VCH Board Treasurer Sylvia Aroth purchased 2469 Lincoln Boulevard (the lot next to McDonald’s that SPY currently occupies) and then sold that property to SPY (the Friends of Venice Youth LLC) in 2017. Now, SPY is in a long-term escrow with VCH so that VCH can develop the property.
- A Supportive Housing Clarification memo from City Planning states: “Those services are intended for residents of the building only.”
What will be the outcome?
Carpenter says she hopes that the police and fire records for VCHC and SPY are reviewed and not ignored at the appeal hearing. She also says she hopes the PLUM committee members read the testimony of nearby neighbors, parents and businesses and vote with the community, not with the homeless service lobbyists.
“I’ve sacrificed time with my children to work on fighting this project because I want to keep them safe,” says Carpenter. “I am showing them that you have to stand up for what is right. My kids don’t have a voice in this. I am their voice.”
Editors Note: A letter obtained by The Venice Current previews responses to the appeal.
The Venice Current reached out to SPY and VCHC for this story and have not heard back.