Rally Exposes Flawed Decision-Making Process on Proposed Homeless Storage Facility
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
If the Sept. 25 rally on the steps of Barton Hill Elementary school was any indication, District 15 Councilman Joe Buscaino has some explaining to do at his Oct. 4 town hall meeting on the homeless storage facility in San Pedro.
About 60 residents showed up for the Sept. 25 rally opposing the proposed storage facility for the homeless on North Pacific Avenue in San Pedro. Flyers distributed more than a week prior alleged that the council office and the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce were seeking permits to use a former Smart & Final store on 227 N. Pacific to open a homeless storage facility. According to the flyer, the facility would be able to hold 450 storage units.
The flyer stated that the facility would draw homeless people, including “the mentally unstable, violent and as seen on various San Pedro social media pages, sexual deviants and drug users.”
Up until Central San Pedro Neighborhood council member Danielle Sandoval took responsibility for printing and distributing the flyer at the rally, the author of the flyer was unknown.
But Sandoval wasn’t alone. Other organizers included Central Neighborhood Council members Donald Galaz and a Barton Hill Elementary booster organization.
Jose Guerrero, 42, one of the speakers at the rally identified himself as a member of the recently formed Barton Hill Platinum Association.
“This is my school,” Guerrero said. “This is my community. [I was] born and raised in this part of San Pedro, the central part of San Pedro.
“How is it OK to put something in the pathway of where kids walk? When they take field trips to the Farmers Market, they take Pacific … and that’s OK? I don’t understand that.”
Guerrero noted that he, his sister, all four of his children and all of his nieces and nephews graduated from the historic elementary school.
The consensus amongst the residents was the first time they learned that the former Smart & Final could be the site for the new homeless storage facility was from the flyer.
Maria Couch, an active member of Holy Trinity Church, lives across the street from the school.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go,” Couch said. “So they will stay around the area.”
To underscore the potential danger involved in locating the storage facility so close to an elementary school, Couch recounted the police response following altercation between a couple of vagrants in an alley behind her home, which resulted in a stabbing.
“I understand there are issues everywhere about everything, but our concern here are the kids,” Couch said. “If we don’t speak up for them, no one will.”
At the center of community outrage, however, was the general belief that the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and Councilman Buscaino were willing to sacrifice their quality of life by drawing the homeless away from the waterfront to the working class neighborhood around Barton Hill Elementary School.
“I don’t have a problem with shopping carts,” Ruben Sampirio said, another Barton Hill Platinum Association member. “There could be a hundred shopping carts from here to all the way to 5th Street. That wouldn’t bug me. What does concern me is the exposure of our children to all the homeless as they enter and leave school while their crap is in that storage facility … we have liquor stores around here and we have weed places—[medical marijuana] dispensaries.
“We don’t want to expose our children to more homeless actions: sleeping, drinking, smoking weed, doing drugs, fighting, having sex in the open, peeing and crapping all over the place. Do you want your kids exposed to that? ”
While the community is united in its desire to not have the facility in their neighborhood, divisions remain on how to deal with the homeless crisis. Couch repeatedly reiterated that the rally was not an attack on homeless people but on placement of the storage facility.
“It’s a Band-Aid,” Couch said. “It doesn’t give them services; it doesn’t provide housing for them.”
She recalled the words of a homeless woman who spoke during the public comment period during the most recent Central Neighborhood Council meeting as saying: “We don’t need storage for our stuff. We need a place for us.”
Guerrero expressed similar sentiments.
“They are putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches,” Guerrero said. “You’re going to put all that money into storage, why couldn’t they find a location that was abandoned and open up a shelter there and put in the same programs they want to put here?”
Guerrero suggested that the money could have been used to rehab single room occupancy hotels to help get the homeless off the street and supplied with services.
“You can hold two people per room or three depending on the size of the room,” he said. “So you start there. It’s not easy and it’s not simple.”
This past April, the city council revised the ordinance that allows the police to sweep homeless encampments left on city streets overnight. The change allows people to keep personal possessions that fit into a 60-gallon container if the city can’t provide nearby storage space or offer transportation to a storage area.
Essentially, the change would allow for the regular council-office-initiated sweeps around the San Pedro post office and other locations to be more effective without risking further lawsuits for disregarding the constitutional rights of the homeless.
But the issue of transparency is what stuck most in the Barton Hill community’s craw.
“If you ask any of the people here how they found out they will tell you they found out through that flyer that was passed out,” Guerrero said. “Before that, a lot of people didn’t know about it. And I’m talking about the people [who] live across the street from it and people who own businesses across from there. If you ask them, they will tell you.”
Sandoval revealed she was the one who circulated the flyer that gathered residents at Barton Hill.
“I’m the one that was at the meeting and found out about it,” Sandoval said. “I’m the reason why you are all here today. I don’t care who knows. It’s about transparency. I have been receiving threatening phone calls from them because I told the community.”
She directed her comments to Buscaino’s communications director and senior advisor, Branimir Kvartuc, who was in attendance at the rally.
“Branimir, I have a recording of you saying that you informed the community at that meeting; shall I release the audio?” Sandoval challenged. “They said they told the surrounding the community and businesses and they are all in for this location.”
Sandoval pointed to Venice Beach as a willing and ready ally in the fight against the storage facility, noting that they so far successfully prevented a second storage facility from being established at the Westminster Senior Center, a site located in a residential area.
Sandoval suggested taking a cue from Venice Beach residents’ playbook and hire their own lawyers to sue if the city pushes to locate a storage facility in the Barton Hill neighborhood.
The former restaurateur turned community activist attempted to deflect blame over the storage facility from the taskforce and place it entirely on the city.
Except, Saving San Pedro founder and San Pedro Homeless Taskforce member, George Palaziol, suggested the answer was a little more complicated than what Sandoval suggested.
In a Facebook posting regarding the circulating flyers on the storage facility, Palaziol, attempted to mollify outraged community members by saying “nothing is set in stone.”
Before Buscaino established the San Pedro Homeless Taskforce, an issue like the siting of a storage facility in a neighborhood would have been taken up and vetted by the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council through an open and deliberative process. Buscaino’s task force worked behind closed doors and will only be officially presenting the proposal to the community on Oct. 4 at the Port of Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club.
Palaziol said he was initially opposed to locating the storage facility on Pacific, but has since had a change of heart.
“Knowing who I am and what I stand for, I will admit that at first I did not feel this was an appropriate location,” Palaziol wrote on Facebook. “But after hearing out all the facts from the entire panel of all involved in this process so far I honestly have to say that most of my concerns have been put to rest.”