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California

Lawsuit aims to halt construction of homeless shelter in Griffith Park

City Councilman David Ryu
City Councilman David Ryu, who represents the area where the shelter is planned, expressed disappointment at efforts to block it.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A new lawsuit aims to halt the construction of a homeless shelter in Griffith Park, arguing that Los Angeles officials skirted city and state rules when they approved the project on a Riverside Drive parking lot.

The Los Angeles City Council voted in December to push forward with the planned shelter and begin awarding funding for the nearly $6.6-million project, which is slated to include a 10,800-square-foot structure with approximately 100 beds and trailers for showers, restrooms and administrative offices. It is expected to break ground in late February or early March.

The county is slated to lease and operate the temporary facility for three years as part of L.A.'s “bridge housing” program, which aims to get homeless people off the streets while permanent housing is still under construction. More than 36,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles, including more than 27,000 people living without shelter, according to the last count.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of nearby residents and property owners called Friends of Waverly Inc., including neighboring resident Victor Adjemian, who had raised concerns with City Councilman David Ryu about the planned site.

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In the lawsuit, the group asserts that Los Angeles officials abused their discretion when they granted the planned shelter an emergency exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The homeless problem is a ‘condition’ which has evolved over years of political malpractice and neglect by the politicians in this city,” not an emergency as courts have interpreted the state law, the lawsuit asserts.

The lawsuit also challenges whether building a shelter violates the terms under which Griffith Park was granted to the city. And it argues that the city skipped necessary hearings for the project, flouting the city charter and ignoring the rights of nearby property owners. The lawsuit specifically objects that there was no hearing before the City Planning Commission.

Holding such a hearing would have shown that “the city lacks any explicit, detailed, reasonable controls” on how the facility will operate in order to protect public health and safety, the lawsuit argues. It called on the court to overturn city approval of the shelter plan and halt construction on the project until such hearings were held.

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Although the proposal did not go through the City Planning Commission, the planned Griffith Park shelter had other public hearings at City Hall, where it was vetted by council committees, and was also reviewed by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, whose members are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Ryu, who represents the area, said his office had “worked to meet with every neighbor who has questions about this bridge home project” and stressed that it had won support from the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and other neighborhood groups.

“It’s disappointing that in this crisis of homelessness, there are still those trying to slow solutions down,” Ryu said in a statement.

Ryu previously wrote to Adjemian about his concerns, arguing that “bridge housing is very different from emergency, walk-up shelters” where anyone can walk up and seek a bed for the night, because it would only be open to identified residents who had been selected by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Those residents would get “around the clock trauma-informed care, mental health services, and case workers tasked with helping them build independent, self-sufficient lives,” Ryu wrote.

Attorney Noel Weiss, who represents Friends of Waverly Inc., declined to respond to those comments or address additional questions about the lawsuit Thursday.

Los Angeles officials have faced sharp opposition to several of their shelter plans: Protests erupted in Koreatown after the city planned to put a shelter near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, eventually spurring Councilman Herb Wesson to pursue an alternative site.

In Venice, a local group sued over plans for another shelter, but a judge ultimately rejected the legal challenge after a state law exempted many L.A. homeless projects from the California Environmental Quality Act. Construction on the Venice facility is expected to finish by the end of January, allowing people to start moving in within weeks.


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