A plan to house homeless families in trailers at the Mar Vista Gardens housing project would put the transients in a vortex of crime and drug activity, residents and neighbors of the project said.
"This is a crazy neighborhood," said a 21-year old resident, who asked that his name not be printed. "It's crazy here at night. There's drugs, shootings, killings here. Bringing homeless residents here is going to be more aggravation. They're going to steal from the homeless."
But if city Housing Authority officials have their way, up to 15 trailers will be placed in the 43-acre complex to provide temporary housing for homeless families living on the Westside.
The trailers are part of a proposal by Mayor Tom Bradley to provide temporary shelter throughout the city for up to 2,000 homeless people. While living in the trailers, the homeless would receive aid and counseling to prepare them for employment and permanent housing.
Although the proposal has been locked in a dispute among City Council members over how to distribute 630 prefabricated buildings among the city's 15 council districts, Mar Vista Gardens could get its first trailers in the next two to three weeks, according to Joseph Gelletich, the Housing Authority's director of housing development.
He said that the trailers, to be located on the edge of a recreation area at the center of the project, would be restricted to families and that residents would have to move after three months.
Many Mar Vista Gardens residents fear that, far from providing help, the trailer proposal will only worsen the plight of the homeless by putting them in the midst of ruthless drug dealers and gang members.
Detective Leanora Lindsey-James of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Bureau CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) gang unit said Mar Vista Gardens has become a favorite gathering place for gang members from the Westside as well as from South Central Los Angeles. Few of them actually live in the project, she said.
In the last several months, she said, tensions have increased as members of two predominantly black gangs from South Central Los Angeles--the Grape Street Crips and the Rolling 60s Crips--have competed for drug territory with the mainly Hispanic Culver City Gang andthe Venice Shoreline Crips, both of whom consider Mar Vista Gardens part of their turf.
Lindsey-James said two residents--who were not gang members--were seriously injured in a drive-by shooting last July. Police are still looking for those responsible, she said.
Lt. Willie Thompson of the Housing Authority police said 90 crimes, ranging from disturbing the peace to assault with a deadly weapon, have been reported this year. Most of the incidents were drug-related, he said.
Residents say it is unsafe to go out after dark, when parking spaces are taken up by gang members making drug deals from their cars, frequently Rolls Royces and Cadillacs purchased with drug profits.
"They (the homeless) might get robbed," said Juan Amador, who has lived at the project for two years. "There are a lot of coke dealers over here."
An administrator at the project, who asked not to be named, said putting the homeless in trailers will only compound the facility's problems.
Earlier this year, she said, a project to house four homeless families at the project turned ugly when one of the men forced his wife into prostitution to pay for drugs. Other families neglected their children to take advantage of the ready availability of drugs.
"One woman was heavily on drugs," the administrator said. "She would buy cookies for the kids and all the other money went to coke.
"I really feel before they talk about putting the homeless anywhere, they should find out why they are homeless."
Salvatore Grammatico, president of the Mar Vista Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Assn., said the trailers would be a burden on an area already up to its limit in low-income housing.
Being Dumped On
"This is not 'We don't want them in our back yard.' " he said. "We have more than enough (low-income housing). We feel we should not always be the ones that should be dumped on whenever this type of thing comes up."
Grammatico said he plans to ask City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who represents the area, to ask officials to put the trailers elsewhere.
If political pressure does not work, he said, he may file a lawsuit charging that the city is violating zoning regulations that forbid high-density housing in Mar Vista Gardens. Between 2,500 and 3,000 people live in the project, manager Mary Louise Jacobs said.
According to Grammatico's calculations, the 601-unit project is already at twice the density permitted under the area's low-density zoning, which imposes a maximum of seven dwelling units per acre. That level would permit only 313 units at the project.
Galanter's press deputy, Rick Ruiz, conceded that the project violates zoning restrictions, but he said humanitarian concerns outweigh the zoning requirements.
"The project as it exists should not have been allowed under the density of the zoning," he said. "They should have changed the zoning. . . . But the density itself is not that much of a concern because we look at it as a short-term crisis response."
Galanter favors reducing the number of trailers from 15 to seven and wants assurances that other council members will shoulder their share of the homeless burden by accepting trailers in their districts as well, Ruiz said.