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Koreatown homeless shelter faces community opposition

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An early test for Mayor Eric Garcetti’s temporary housing plan

Mayor Garcetti at Koreatown shelter site
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Council President Herb Wesson announced the Koreatown shelter last week.
Courtesy Mayor of Los Angeles

A city plan announced last week to build an emergency homeless shelter in a Koreatown parking lot is already drawing criticism from some residents and business owners.

On Sunday, a few dozen opponents of the project gathered at the Wilshire/Vermont subway station to criticize local officials for pursuing the project without first consulting community members.

Opponents have also started a Facebook group called “No Shelter in Koreatown,” as well as an online petition that has garnered more than 4,500 signatures in four days.

The shelter would be the first of 15 facilities Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed building last month across the entire city (one for each council district). Those shelters, part of an initiative the mayor calls “A Bridge Home,” would provide temporary dwelling space for some of the roughly 25,000 people living on city streets and sidewalks.

Thanks to a new state law, a “shelter crisis” that Garcetti declared last month will ease regulatory obstacles that could delay construction of those shelters. One of those obstacles is a community engagement process required for most larger developments, and that’s already rubbing some residents the wrong way.

Project opponent Jae Sang says “the main issue for the group is that the decision was made without the decision of the community.” Sang says opponents want a “town hall meeting” with Garcetti and Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson, who represents the area.

The mayor’s staff “will of course sit down with anyone who has fears or serious concerns,” says Anna Bahr, a spokesperson for Garcetti. “But what we can’t do is only say ‘no.’ We have to get to ‘yes’ because people are living on the streets of Koreatown tonight.”

Wesson is the first councilmember to select a site for one of the shelters called for by Garcetti. This one would be located in the heart of the booming Koreatown neighborhood, near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. Wesson’s communications director, Vanessa Rodriguez, tells Curbed that the councilmember is “hopeful residents will see an immediate improvement in their communities” once the shelter is finished.

The mayor plans to fund construction of the temporary housing centers with $20 million included in his proposed 2018-19 budget. The shelters are only expected to stand for three years; they’ll include showers, bathrooms, and storage for residents—as well as a place to stay while the city works to construct 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing funded by Measure HHH.

Pushback from community members over projects geared toward homeless residents is common, and it’s something city officials have vowed to fight against as the number of Angelenos living without a permanent address continues to rise.