Judges rulings clear path for MTA shelter, median housing project
By Sam Catanzaro
This month two court rulings have cleared the way for a pair of housing projects in Venice to proceed after local activist groups challenged the legality of a state law exempting environmental review for housing developments.
On December 13, a Venice Stakeholder’s Association (VSA) petition to halt the construction of a 154-bed bridge housing homeless shelter in Venice was denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff. VSA argued that AB 1197 – a new Los Angeles-specific state law providing California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemptions for emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing – should not apply retroactively on the bridge housing shelter since lawmakers approved the project before AB 1197 went into effect.
“AB 1197 on its face does not apply retroactively and California courts do not apply new laws retroactively absent clear direction from the Legislature to do so,” wrote Jeffrey Lewis, counsel for VSA in a letter to Los Angeles City Council last month. “The City would be better served by conceding this point, following the law and going through the CEQA process to serve the residents surrounding the Project location. The faster that the City initiates the CEQA process, the sooner it can begin serving.”
Judge Beckloff, however, rejected this argument and found that AB 1197 does exempt the shelter, set to open in January or February, from CEQA review. The ruling was met with enthusiasm by local lawmakers including Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feurer, who called the litigation “needless”, and LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin.
“I’m grateful we can move forward in our work to provide an alternative to the current nightmare of sidewalk encampments in our neighborhoods and people literally dying on our streets,” Bonin wrote in a Facebook post. “In a moment that demands urgency, it was incredibly frustrating to watch time and money being wasted on [a] legal battle that roadblocked humane solutions. I look forward to opening bridge housing in Venice as soon as possible.”
Earlier this month, another LA Superior Court Judge, James Chalfant, ruled to dismiss a case brought forth by Fight Back Venice! challenging a 140-bed affordable housing project planned on the median on Venice Boulevard between Pacific Avenue and Dell Avenue. Fight Back Venice! argued that AB 1197 was unconstitutional and should not allow for height and density requirement exemptions. Judge Chalfant, however, on December 5 granted a City motion to dismiss Fight Back Venice!’s claim, finding that AB 1197 was constitutional. Chalfant did give Fight Back Venice! the opportunity to present additional evidence to elaborate on one of their arguments on the legality of AB 1197 ahead of a January hearing to reconsider.
“City officials knew full well that they were going to lose this lawsuit, so they got their friends in Sacramento to rewrite the law after the fact. It doesn’t get much shadier — or much stinkier — than that. In 20 years in law and government service, I have never seen elected officials hijack the judicial process like this. All Californians who value the rule of law should be alarmed by what transpired in connection with this fundamentally meritorious case,” said Fight Back Venice! member Christian Wrede via Facebook post from the group.