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Venice Beach grapples with homelessness controversy

In June, the Coastal Commission will hold a hearing on L.A.'s plan to create no-overnight-parking zones. Residents and business owners want them; vehicle-dwelling homeless wonder where they would go.

April 09, 2009|Robert J. Lopez

Paige Clay and Eveline Popp are on two sides of a long-simmering controversy in the pricey neighborhoods near Venice Beach.

Clay owns a restaurant on Rose Avenue that sits amid a hotbed of homelessness and people who live in cars, campers and recreational vehicles. Popp has been living in a rusty recreational vehicle, which she parks along Rose and nearby streets.

In June, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to take public testimony before deciding whether to approve a city proposal to establish five overnight parking districts in and near Venice that would prevent people from sleeping in their vehicles. The meeting will take place June 10 through 12 at the Marina del Rey Hotel.

The Westside district has become a magnet for people who live in their cars and campers. Indeed, on a recent afternoon, Clay served customers at her Flake cafe while two battered RVs and an old bus and camper sat across the street.

Several people, one with a shopping cart filled with belongings, drank from a container wrapped in a brown paper bag near one of the vehicles. Another man was passed out on a chair at a sidewalk table that Clay sets aside for her customers.

"We call Rose Avenue 'Skid Rose' because there are so many homeless people," said Clay, referring to downtown's shabby skid row district. "I deal with the problem of homelessness and RV parking every day of my life."

Popp, 76, who shares her cramped vehicle with her prized puppet collection, said she understands the concerns of residents and business owners. But she said that people like her need somewhere to live.

"I think there's places where we can go," Popp said.

Venice business owners and residents who support the parking proposal view it as a quality-of-life and safety issue. Opponents say it will punish people simply for being homeless and just push them to other areas without addressing the underlying causes of the problem.

The Coastal Commission must determine whether the parking restrictions would prevent people from using the beach.

"The overwhelming primary issue is coastal access," said Charles Posner, a commission analyst for the Venice area.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who supports the plan, said Wednesday that he expects the commission to grant approval. He also said he has signatures from two-thirds of the residents and business owners in the five areas, which the city needs to establish the zones.

People have a right to sleep in their vehicles, "but they can't be in the faces of these Venice residents," Rosendahl said, adding that he wants to find spots where campers and RVs can park and have access to running water and restroom facilities.

Whatever happens, Clay and Popp agree that the city needs to help solve the problem.

"We need to do something," Clay said. "We've got to find a safe place for these people to live."

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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