Opponents of a proposed $1.2-million comprehensive center for the homeless in West Hollywood this week accused city officials of a "sham" attempt to diffuse criticism of the controversial project.
"It was a big joke, a sham," opposition leader Michael Radcliffe said of a forum Tuesday to give residents of the city's east side--where the facility would be located--a chance to sound off about the plan.
"The City Council claims they want our input, but from what I see, they've already made up their minds," he said. "All the rest is just for appearances."
Radcliffe and others said that city officials "packed" the meeting--which drew about 60 people to a Plummer Park meeting hall--with homeless people and others who favor the project. Most of those who spoke were in favor of the center.
"It was a pointless gathering. . . . They packed it by going around and urging the homeless in West Hollywood Park to come, and, of course, they got the usual turnout from those (in favor of the project). You can't call that genuine community input."
City Manager Paul Brotzman, who played host to the forum along with Sandra Jacoby Klein, chairwoman of the Human Services Commission, dismissed the accusation.
Word Spread Quickly
"I don't think anybody here (at City Hall) did that. I suspect that word of the meeting spread quickly among the homeless community, which accounts for why so many of them showed up."
It was the second time in as many days that Brotzman faced critics of the plan. He received a cool reception Monday from about two-dozen east-side business people after being invited to appear before the 88-member West Hollywood Community Alliance.
Radcliffe, who is a member of the alliance's board of directors, took city officials to task Tuesday for what he portrayed as a "top-heavy" shelter budget "that would give us 40 staff members to care for a homeless population of 50."
But Brotzman said a projected budget that includes $522,000 in salaries the first year "is predicated on the optimistic assumption that the shelter will be successful enough to generate funding from public and private sources," besides the $300,000 to $400,000 annually that West Hollywood expects to provide.
While insisting that they are not opposed to caring for the homeless, opponents have questioned whether West Hollywood would be taking on more than it can handle if the shelter attracts homeless people from surrounding areas.
After opponents voiced their complaints two weeks ago, the City Council postponed voting on a lease for part of a warehouse at 1033 La Brea Ave., which is to house the proposed 70-bed facility.
City Councilman Steve Schulte said the postponement was to clarify "a couple of technical points" related to the agreement and was not related to the opposition. The points were resolved in a closed session after the council meeting, he said.
The agreement, which was signed Monday by Mayor Pro Tem Abbe Land, calls for a 10-year lease at $119,000 a year. Officials estimate that it would cost $600,000 to renovate the warehouse, and $500,000 a year, in addition to the lease expense, to operate the center. The city hopes to acquire up to $525,000 from federal, state and county sources to help pay for the renovation.
The council is expected to ratify the agreement when it meets on Tuesday, Brotzman said.
"I suppose they could always reverse it, but frankly I would be incredibly surprised to see that happen," he said.
West Hollywood, a city with a population of 37,000 and an estimated 300 to 700 homeless people, has been grappling for months with the problem of the homeless.
At the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the council decided in June to close the city's two parks--where an estimated 150 of the homeless were living--from midnight to 6 a.m. Authorities said they closed the parks because of an increase in crime there, often involving homeless people as victims.
To help the homeless people living in the parks, the council decided to open the West Hollywood Park Auditorium as a nightly emergency shelter for as many as 50 people until the permanent shelter opens. The emergency shelter has operated at capacity for several weeks, with officials turning away up to 20 people a night.
As proposed, the permanent facility is to include an emergency shelter, a drop-in center, a food program and counseling services that city officials have said could be a model for future facilities developed in the region.
In part to acquire financing from county and federal sources, the facility has been pitched as a "regional prototype" that Jodi Curlee, the city's social services director, said represents a comprehensive approach to homeless care.
But critics fear that such an approach would make West Hollywood a magnet for homeless people from other communities and would create an overflow transient population near the proposed center.
And the ranks of the critics include some of the homeless themselves.
"I don't think what is being proposed is the best we could do," said homeless advocate Sam Weinstein. "From what's been presented, I envision a bunch of specialists sitting in cubicles adorned with a lot of pseudo-liberal bric-a-brac who have job descriptions that don't permit them to go help the drunk in the lobby."