Important Setback for Homeless Housing

Architect's projection of completed Lorena Plaza, 3047 E 1st Streeet, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) on August 16 rejected a plan from the highly regarded A Community of Friends (ACOF) to build a 49-unit affordable income apartment house in Boyle Heights, half of whose tenants would be mentally ill homeless.

The contested property, a one-acre empty lot at 3407 E. First Street at the corner of Lorena Street in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, is a one-acre empty lot owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. To the west is the Evergreen Cemetery. To the east is El Mercado, a combined market, restaurant, nightclub, and craft store.

Headed by CEO Dora Leong Gallo. ACOF is a nonprofit affordable housing developer focused on permanent supportive housing for homeless people with mental health, addiction and other special needs or disabilities. The have built or bought and rehabbed 40 properties in the LA area that house almost 1,600 formerly homeless people.

Called Lorena Plaza, the Boyle Heights project has been in the planning and approvals stage for five years. It won approval from the Los Angeles Planning Department. The owner of El Mercado appealed the Planning Department approval, which then went to the PLUM Committee.

Only three of the five committee members attended the August 16 meeting. The chair, CD 14 Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, ruled in favor of the appeal, not even taking a vote. The two other councilmembers present, as is customary, deferred to Huizar as the project is in his district.

Nominally, Huizar’s objection is that there is an old oil well on the property and he is demanding a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) clearance if the project is to proceed. The Planning Department has investigated this issue and ruled that there was no environmental risk.

Jose Huizar

In an August 17 interview with radio station KPCC, Huizar said,

“The environmental consultant for the project had reviewed documentation – this is what’s called phase one environmental – they recommended a phase two environmental, which would test the soil for environmental contamination. And none was done, and in fact there is an old oil well there, that we don’t know if the soil is in fact contaminate or not.”

There are thousands of abandoned oil wells in Los Angeles. It does not require a full Environmental Impact Report to see that potential soil contamination does not pose a hazard. The phase two physical soil tests that Councilmember Huizar cites as grounds for a prolonged EIR is normally done routinely at the beginning of actual construction.

Huizar went on to make clear that he was against the project in general, saying that a majority of the people who spoke against the project at the PLUM Committee meeting were from the neighborhood while those who spoke for it was affordable housing advocates who were not local residents. Asked by the reporter if this was NIMBYism, he did not answer the question. The project did have the backing of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.

What Happens Next?

There are four levels of CEQA review. The first, a categorical exemption, which means there is no objection, has now been ruled out. The next level is a Negative Declaration, which means that an investigation has not found anything to correct, or a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which means that the investigators have found something that needs to be corrected to win approval.

The highest level of CEQA review is a full Environmental Impact Report. This would include identification of all significant effects, alternatives, and potential mitigation measures.

The Los Angeles Planning Department, which has already approved the project, is the lead agency for CEQA reviews. Nominally, even for a full EIR the CEQA reviewers are required to make their decision within 60 days of receiving the report. The catch is that from the Negative Declaration up to an EIR there is a lengthening list of questions that must each be answered by a detailed, time-consuming, and expensive study. Technical sections such as the soil contamination test, traffic patterns, can only be done by certified professionals. Even when completed, EIR’s are subject to appeal to the courts, leaving a determined and well-financed opponent of a project almost endless ways to delay and kill it.

Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, raised his concerns that pushing the Lorena Plaza project into the CEQA process put all such future efforts in danger. He told the LA Times, “If we don’t find a way to make it work we have sent a message to everyonje who would ppose a project like this in their neighborhood that they should shell out money, hire lobbyists and fight is because there is some possibility of success.”

City Attorney Mike Feuer has offered to provide legal aid to A Community of Friends to save the project.


Dora Leong Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends


It is understandable that elected officials don’t want to stand up to angry constituents. But experience has made it clear that while voters will back money to get the homeless off the streets and into housing, they don’t want the housing in their neighborhoods. In Venice and San Pedro, outraged residents blocked plans to open even storage facilities for homeless people’s belongings. Just in May of this year angry neighbors forced the halt of a plan to convert the Golden Motel into a housing project for the homeless and veterans. Caving in when we are at the very beginning of a ten-year effort to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless bodes ill for the city’s chances of finding enough locations to spend the $1.2 billion from Proposition HHH.


The LA Times ran a lead editorial August 22 criticizing the PLUM Committee’s action. It read in part:

“It is disappointing that Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar wants a long-delayed housing development in Boyle Heights for poor and homeless people to be delayed even further while an extensive environmental report is prepared. This looks less like an attempt to ensure that the site is safe than an attempt to slow down — and derail — a well-designed project that could offer housing to Angelenos who desperately need it. . . .

“If these are the hurdles that face a viable, reasonable project to create a mere two dozen units of housing for the homeless, how in the world is this city going to get 10,000 units built? There will always be neighbors who oppose a project, there will always be officials annoyed at someone who disrespected them, there will always be an environmental concern of one sort or another that can be exploited.”

The Times called on a full City Council meeting to reject the PLUM Committee recommendation and approve the Lorena Plaza project. That meeting is currently scheduled for September 19.


St. Joseph Center/First To Serve, Broadway Manchester Access Center, 8525 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90003

The SPA6 Homeless Coalition meets usually on the second Friday of every month. Our regular meetings are held from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.  

Due to the coronavirus we are not holding meetings in person, but are holding them by remote video (Zoom). Our next meeting will be on Friday, October 8, 2021. It will be held by Zoom from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm in two distinct parts. Registration and logins are posted below. The registration link  for the first, Coalition, half, will give you the Zoom login but also lets us know who is coming. Since we went virtual we have not had a sign-in sheet to keep track of who is attending and this is to fix that.

10 to 11:30 am - SPA 6 Homeless Coalition 
We will have a special presentation by Our Future Los Angeles about the Housing Element and their other Advocacy Campaigns and Initiatives.  
When: Oct 8, 2021 10:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada) 
Register in advance for this meeting: 
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
11:30am to 1 pm - Measure H- Homeless Initiative Stakeholder Engagement Meeting--Different Zoom Link
Please attend and  invite whomever you think would be interested in attending!
Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 919 6156 8596
Passcode: 516229
One tap mobile
+12133388477,,91961568596#,,,,*516229# US (Los Angeles)
+16692192599,,91961568596#,,,,*516229# US (San Jose)
All of the materials, including the presentation video that will be shown at the beginning of the session are posted below. It would be great for everyone to review the presentation ahead of time.  We encourage everyone to come on Friday to participate in person!  And, the link is below to provide written feedback, as well!





Discussion Questions:
1) Of the 16 consolidated strategies, which do you think are most impactful in ensuring our homeless services system increases flow through our system with exits to permanent housing? Which will be most effective for people who are persistently homeless.
 2) What are the most impactful ways that the County’s mainstream systems (e.g. health and social services) can prevent homelessness and serve people who are experiencing homelessness? 
3)How can we create opportunities for cities to increase the supply of permanent and interim housing in their jurisdictions? How can the County and cities work together most effectively to maximize exits to permanent housing?
4) Do you think the steps that HI has taken to advance racial equity within our homeless services system are taking us in the right direction? Are there opportunities within specific strategies or programs to further ensure that resources are distributed in a racially equitable manner.
5) Are there critical issues or strategies you feel are not adequately addressed by the new framework and/or remain unclear? [(f time allows). 

And, a reminder:
2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Launch
When: Thursday, October 7, 2021, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 986 0713 2882
Passcode: 684831
One tap mobile
+16699006833,,98607132882# US (San Jose)
+12532158782,,98607132882# US (Tacoma)
See you on Friday!





Phoenix Hall, 10950 S. Central Avenue,  Los Angeles, CA 90059. It is at the back of the parking lot.