The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to place a permanent supportive housing project on land used as a therapeutic playground by an Echo Park nonprofit, which strongly opposed the council's action.
El Centro del Pueblo claims a permanent supportive housing complex would adversely affect its mission, which is to give youth a safe space and provide gang intervention and therapy services.
But City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said the housing project is desperately needed.
"Homelessness is not an issue; it is the issue facing our city and county," said O'Farrell, who proposed the land use change. "I take this calamity very seriously."
The city rents the land to El Centro del Pueblo for about $7,000 annually, but the lease agreement expired in November and is now month-to-month.
Wednesday's council vote gives the city's Housing and Community Investment Department authority over the land.
El Centro del Pueblo serves many Latino and minority children, according to its supporters.
"What this is about is an attack on the Latino community. Nothing could be more clear or evident," said City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, who represents an adjacent council district that El Centro serves. Cedillo and Councilman Joe Buscaino were the lone dissenters in the council's 10-2 vote.
Wit the council's action, the land can now be used for higher-density and income-restricted housing. According to O'Farrell's motion, the site is close to public transit and car-sharing options, public parking, service organizations and businesses. The site, located at 1140-1152 N. Glendale Blvd., is about 28,000 square feet, which could provide up to 98 units if the project receives density bonuses.
Cedillo compared the proposal to federal policies that separate migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexican border, as it would deprive the children of mental health services.
Cedillo said of the dozens of other permanent supportive housing projects being planned, "not one is taking away an asset from any community." He said the proposal should have been heard in the City Council's Housing Committee and not just the Homeless and Poverty Committee.
O'Farrell is the chairman of the Homeless and Poverty Committee and Cedillo chairs the Housing Committee.
O'Farrell said discussion of land's use will continue, and more time for public comment will be provided. But he said the location is near the "epicenter of people experiencing homelessness in Echo Park."
The city is expected to solicit bids for construction of the housing project in the near future.
"I'm asking this council to step back and (discuss) more, so that we can have a win-win solution," former City Councilman Mike Hernandez told the council during the hearing.
Darcy Harris, the chairwoman of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, said her council has not taken a position on the project, but she supported it.
"'We need more of these projects in our neighborhood," Harris said. "El Centro does great work for our underserved community. I understand the resistance to change. It may not be the same but ... if it won't prevent them from what they're doing, that would be a good balance in the community."
David Diaz, a retired director of Urban Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, submitted documents to the council on Tuesday, saying the project was out of compliance with the city's Proposition HHH, which could finance a portion of a supportive housing project. Diaz argued that a "comprehensive citizen oversight process" had not taken place. He mentioned that the project would be in close proximity to sensitive areas such a school two blocks away.
O'Farrell said he or someone from his office has met multiple times with El Centro del Pueblo officials and legislators over the last year and a half regarding the supportive housing, stressing that El Centro would be able to continue its operations.
According to its website, El Centro del Pueblo was established in 1974 to stem the effects of gang violence and work to improve the lives of children and families through prevention efforts in Los Angeles.