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Hotly contested plan for homeless housing in Valley district moves forward

An auto sales lot in Chatsworth
A proposal to build housing for the homeless on this site in Chatsworth passed a City Council committee Wednesday.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A contested plan to bring dozens of units of homeless housing to Chatsworth is moving forward to the Los Angeles City Council, after a council committee voted narrowly against delaying the decision.

Homeless advocates packed the Wednesday meeting to urge council members to commit to fund the Topanga Apartments, a proposed 64-unit complex.

“If not that, what? If not there, where? If not now, when?” asked the Rev. William S. Freeman of the Congregational Church of Chatsworth, pointing out that no new homeless housing had been approved in the area.

If approved, it would be the first homeless housing project in Council District 12 — a northwestern stretch of the San Fernando Valley that includes Granada Hills, Northridge and Porter Ranch — to be funded under Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure approved by voters. No new units for homeless people have been built in that area, even as thousands are in the works across L.A.

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The Chatsworth Neighborhood Council and other opponents argue that it is the wrong site for such a project. Opponents have said the proposed project would be too tall, diminish privacy for nearby residents and sit too close to an elementary school.

Newly elected Councilman John Lee, who represents the area, said the proposed building would be “out of scale” with the surrounding neighborhood and had been pushed forward without enough community outreach.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, Lee’s senior legislative deputy, Erich King, asked the committee to pull the proposal out of a package of HHH housing projects and delay its decision for up to four weeks to continue talks with the developer and do more community outreach about the proposed project and its location.

Some council members on the committee were sympathetic to the idea: Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said she had seen the importance of reaching out to the community on such projects and stressed that Lee had taken his seat only a few weeks ago.

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But Councilman David Ryu argued that there would still be ample time for that community engagement because it can take over a year to get such a project underway. Councilman Mike Bonin added that the project would probably need other city approvals.

President Trump’s plan to get homeless people off L.A. streets is to eliminate layers of regulation to make it easier and cheaper to build more housing. But it’s too simple to link that approach with that of his liberal antagonists in California.

If council members held off, Bonin argued, it would be hard for them to face local groups that had fought against similar projects without success. “We all will have a tough time going back to our districts and saying, ‘You had concerns ... but we plowed through. But we decided to hold off in another district,’” Bonin said.

Bonin, Ryu and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson ultimately rejected a move to put off the decision on the Topanga Apartments for two weeks. The vote was 3 to 2, with Rodriguez and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell supporting the delay.

The decision on whether to commit HHH funding to the Topanga Apartments now heads to the full council for approval. Jimmy Silverwood, vice president of acquisitions and development for developer Affirmed Housing Group, said he was hopeful that the firm could work with Lee staffers to alleviate their concerns. The developer, he said, is open to modifying the building design.

A preliminary, conceptual drawing of a proposed homeless housing project on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth.
A preliminary, conceptual drawing of a proposed homeless housing project on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth.
(Affirmed Housing Group)

“We’re reasonable developers,” Silverwood said. “We’re going to work with the community on hopefully determining something that works.”

Lee said in a written statement after the Wednesday vote that he was disappointed that the committee had voted to move forward with the Chatsworth project “against my request for a short delay to do outreach to the community.”

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“However, moving forward through the process I remain committed to ensure that there is an open dialogue between the community, my office, and the developer,” Lee said. “My record shows that I am committed to [Council District] 12 being part of the solution.”

The Homelessness and Poverty Committee voted to hold off on recommending funding for two other projects in South L.A. at the request of Harris-Dawson, allowing up to four weeks for more community outreach.

Harris-Dawson urged people at the meeting not to conflate his request with the Chatsworth issue, saying that would be “absolutely insulting to the people of South L.A.” in light of the fact that his district has approved hundreds of HHH units. Two other proposed projects in his district were moving forward to the council, he pointed out.

Council members pledged last year to support at least 222 new units of homeless housing in each of their districts, in an effort to ensure that such housing is built all over the city. But progress toward that goal has been uneven.

“We cannot continue building the majority of developments in South Los Angeles and metro Los Angeles, perpetuating economic segregation and racial resegregation,” Andrea Murray of the homeless services provider St. Joseph Center told the committee. “We need housing everywhere.”


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