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Board OKs Move for Downtown’s Homeless Shelter

Times Staff Writer

The city Board of Zoning Adjustment voted Tuesday to permit a downtown Los Angeles emergency shelter for the homeless to relocate, over the strong objections of business people who claimed that the move would harm their trade.

In what was a victory for the Bradley Administration’s plan to push the heart of Skid Row farther east, away from the office district, and expand shelters for the homeless there, the panel granted the Community Redevelopment Agency a one-year permit to operate a 138-bed shelter at 6th and San Pedro streets.

Until last month, the shelter, built by volunteers last winter after a much-publicized downtown Tent City was shut down, had operated a few blocks away, at 5th and San Julian streets. That site has been taken over by construction crews working under another city program to rehabilitate old hotels serving the poor.

The action by the Bradley-appointed board reversed a decision by a staff zoning officer, who had denied the permit on the grounds that the 6th and San Pedro site was not properly zoned for residential use and that the shelter would be detrimental to surrounding businesses.

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Representatives of businesses, primarily fish-processing firms and toy wholesalers, said they will appeal the board’s decision to the City Council and then seek a court order, if necessary, to block the reopening of the shelter.

Redevelopment agency officials argued that the shelter is needed and would actually improve the area because security officers would patrol nearby.

James Wood, chairman of the redevelopment agency, noted that the huge Weingart Center, which houses a homeless shelter, an alcohol detoxification program and other services for Skid Row residents, is across the street and that there are many old hotels in the area. “The use we are requesting is consistent with the vicinity,” he said.

Ghetto Plan Charged

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Business representatives charged, however, that the shelter is part of a plan to create a ghetto for the poor.

They noted that the city has proposed creating other shelters in the area and has tentatively identified 6th and San Pedro as the new home for the Union Rescue Mission, a large private shelter on Main Street. Moving the mission farther east is part of the redevelopment agency’s effort to reduce the number of Skid Row residents wandering into the central business district and the Civic Center.

Business owners said the plan would increase crime and thwart their efforts to revitalize the area. “The (businesses) of this community have carried the burden of the social ills of the whole Los Angeles County,” said Charles Woo, a spokesman for a toy wholesalers association in the area.

After four hours of sometimes emotional testimony, board members said that the area is a “hodgepodge” of residential and commercial land uses and that the shelter is consistent.

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