A Los Angeles planning commission did the right thing when it approved a beer and wine permit for a restaurant in a skid row apartment building largely occupied by formerly homeless people, even though many of them are struggling with substance abuse. The decision Tuesday by the city's Central Area Planning Commission overturned a zoning administrator's denial of the permit in March.
The New Genesis Apartments complex, built by the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust, was designed for a mix of populations and uses. The 106-unit building is widely considered a model because it mixes formerly chronically homeless people, on-site supportive services for them, affordable housing for lower income residents, lofts for artists and street-level commercial use. The building stands at 456 South Main Street on the edge of a rapidly evolving skid row, within a block of fashionable bistros and market-rate lofts, yet up the street from a social service agency, Chrysalis, which helps homeless and low-income people find jobs.
Currently the building, which has been occupied for a year and a half, houses Peddler's Creamery, an ice cream shop. And it has an empty space intended for a late-serving restaurant, which will help ensure an after-hours bustle to make the block inviting and safe. The developers have chosen Great Balls, a whimsical food truck business specializing in meatballs that will now open its first full-service restaurant.
The decision to grant the permit has the support of numerous downtown business groups, the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council, Councilman Jose Huizar, a variety of homeless advocates and the on-site social service providers. But it has had its share of critics as well, including some formerly homeless people living in New Genesis and some social service providers. One clinical social worker who testified before the commission Tuesday night called it "unethical" to put a restaurant offering beer and wine in a building where recovering alcoholics live.
But New Genesis is surrounded by purveyors of alcohol, including an existing restaurant just steps away at the corner of 5th and Main. A restaurant serving alcohol on the ground floor will have no more deleterious effect than all the other places serving alcohol within walking distance of New Genesis. As an executive from Chrysalis told the commissioners, people aren't helped to reenter mainstream society "by shielding them from the realities of the neighborhood we want them integrated into."
This is exactly the kind of gentrification downtown needs — services and housing for the homeless alongside neighbors of other income levels in communities vibrant with shops, restaurants and businesses.