LUPC Demands Full CEQA Review for Reese-Davidson at Oct. 6, Hearing
By Angela McGregor
On September 26, Governor Newsom signed into law AB1197, a state bill applying exclusively to Los Angeles agencies exempting developments “related to supportive housing and emergency shelters, as defined” from California Environmental Quality Act protections.
As part of their 3 page long list of requested actions, the developers of the massive Reese-Davidson Community, a project proposed for the Venice Median at the north end of the Venice Canals, stated that they were therefore exempt from CEQA. They also stated that a traffic study of the project has been completed, and that, despite its size (104,140 sq feet) and addition of 140 residential units as well as commercial spaces for art and retail, the project would have no significant traffic impacts.
The developers — Venice Community Housing Corporation and Hollywood Community Housing Corporation — will be presenting the project before City Planning on October 22nd, to request the CEQA exemption, the zoning change and permission to narrow the adjacent sidewalks, and to hear public commentary regarding the impacts of the project.
At Tuesday night’s LUPC meeting, Becky Dennison of VCHC gave a brief presentation about the project, reminding the committee that they had already issued a motion disapproving the zoning change. The developers anticipate roughly a five month approval process, and expect each housing unit to cost about $500K to build — the average for such Proposition HHH funded PSH developments. She also stated that they would be doing a “full sea level rise analysis” which would be completed in a month or so, although it is not, legally, required.
Public commentary against the project offered a diverse set of reasons for its denial:
1) The location, with its numerous environmental challenges (including creating a traffic bottleneck in a tsunami zone and at the gateway to L.A.’s most popular tourist attraction) is inappropriate and perhaps even dangerous.
2) Similar projects in Venice (in particular, Pacific Sunset Bridge Housing) have resulted in an increase in crime and homelessness in our community.
3) At previous presentations, the community was assured that a full CEQA review would be undertaken, in light of the project’s size and impacts, particularly on the iconic Venice Canals. To deny one now would be a betrayal and a rebuke to the clear wishes of the majority of Venetians.
4) Venice already has more approved units of Prop HHH funded housing than the rest of CD11 combined.
5) As one resident put it, ” Spending all this money to help a small amount of people is not compassion–it’s corruption”
6) VNC Board member CJ Cole stated, ” I think we have a community that knows nothing about what is happening. I find it’s impossible to have any kind of discussion on anything because of COVID. This project is so large–it really needs to stop and be put on hold. ”
7) One community member identifying herself as a mental health professional stated that, while she supported VCHC’s original housing model of creating small-scale, multiple unit projects with live-in peer counselors, this project is far too large to care for mentally ill persons effectively.
Board member Matt Royce, a previous LUPC Chair and one of the LUPC staffers on the project, stated that he had two main issues with it.
Number One was sea level rise, which he views as a major threat that renders the location very problematic as it would be (and has been, historically) one of the first places to be flooded during a storm. As the ground water level rises, private homeowners in easy to access, low-density homes will get rescued (and rely upon their own, private insurance to mitigate the damages), but what VCH is proposing — a high density facility filled with a vulnerable population — would be “irresponsible”.
Number Two was the fact that “you cannot house all the homeless with $500,000 units,” and that suggesting that such high-cost projects would do so is a financial fallacy. “It will house a few and make politicians and developers look good for a little while,” he said. Another LUPC member, Carlos Zonnas, agreed, and stated that the choice of the site, with all of its challenges, was “a reflection of stubbornness” on the part of the developers, and that LUPC and the community more broadly haven’t had enough time to analyze a project of this magnitude.
LUPC Chair Alix Glucovsky focused on the developers’ request to amend the general plan to change the site’s use from open space. “This is the last bit of open space left in the coastal zone, belongs to Venice, and should remain open space.” she stated, and quoted California coastal advocate Peter Douglas: “Victories in environmental advocacy are often temporary; losses are permanent”.
Once this space goes, she pointed out, we don’t get it back. In addition, when Councilman Bonin presented this space as “underutilized” in offering it for a PSH project of this magnitude, he neglected to mention that it lies in the dual coastal zone. As for AB1197, the VNC submitted a Community Impact Statement asking for it to be exempted in the coastal zone, and yet the bill passed through the state legislature with no transparency or regard for community impacts.
At the end of meeting, there was a consensus among the LUPC members to create a motion, drafted primarily by Royce, to request a full CEQA review of the project, in light of its need for a change in zoning, location within a flood zone and within the dual coastal zone. This motion will now go to the VNC Board for a decision.