Update in August 30 Assault- Violence is Never the Answer

As many of you know, on August 30 there was a pro-Trump car caravan rally along Ventura Blvd where there were reports of a gun being fired. This week we received the welcome news from LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Rodriguez that they have arrested and have in custody their main suspect.

There is a lot of mis-information about what did and did not happen during this rally. According to LAPD, this 28 year-old suspect was in a nearby apartment shouting and throwing glass bottles at rally participants. That escalated as the arguing continued with rally participants and the suspect pointed a rifle at a demonstrator. By the time police entered the apartment, the suspects were gone but they did recover the rifle. Investigators then went through all the evidence and recordings and arrested the suspect yesterday.

Anyone with additional knowledge of the incident is encouraged to contact Major Crimes Division Investigators at 213.486.7280. Anonymous tips can be made at 1.800.222.TIPS (8477) or go to www.lacrimestoppers.org.

While detectives initially linked tire damage to a shot, the investigation was unable to unequivocally confirm that shots were fired. Regardless, the first amendment right to peaceful protest and to criticize the government remains paramount. Though it appears that the suspect was triggered by the Trump Caravan, he was not known to be associated with the counter-protestors and he was in an apartment building that was at the top of Chalk Hill which was far from where the peaceful counter-protestors were demonstrating.

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Following up from "Connecting Canoga Park through Safety and Urban Cooling Improvements."

Last night, August 6, Councilmember Blumenfield, Streets LA and LADOT held a virtual town hall on "Connecting Canoga Park through Safety and Urban Cooling Improvements." Next month, the City will apply for State Active Transportation Program funds to construct and install new sidewalks, crosswalks, signals, bike lanes, shade structures, trees and other improvements to make it safer and more comfortable to walk, bike and take transit to reach the Sherman Way Orange Line Station and neighborhood parks, schools, and other destinations. A short video explaining the project is available here. If you have comments or questions, please e-mail councilmember.blumenfield@lacity.org or call 818.774.4330. Comments received by midnight on Sunday, August 9, will be addressed in the grant application, but all comments will be addressed in the final design of the project. 

Council Round Up 8.31.2020

This week there were several critical motions that the City Council voted on or introduced that I want to share with you.

Properly Disposing of PPE and Making Sure Everyone Has Reusable Masks

One of the most affordable and efficient ways to help combat the spread of COVID-19 is by wearing a mask when in public. Though many Angelenos have been abiding by physical distancing guidelines and wearing masks, we continue to see and read reports that too many aren't. It seems like every day we learn of record high diagnoses throughout the City, despite public health officials continuing to promote the importance of masks.

The Council passed my motion to increase fines up to $250 and boost enforcement measures for people littering dangerous PPE on our streets and sidewalks. We’ve all seen masks and rubber gloves littered on our streets, sidewalks and throughout shared spaces like parking lots, sometimes even laying feet away from a trash can. So many people in our community are doing their part and encouraging others to curb the spread of this virus and act responsibly. Again, thank you to everyone who has been doing their share —more people need to follow your lead. 

Also, for residents who don't have a mask, I have given away thousands of reusable masks so far in this pandemic and have thousands more to give. If you need one, please send me an email at C03.foryou@lacity.org or call my district office at 818.774.4330. My team and I have also been actively handing out masks to homeless people in the district, giving them to first responders as well as working hand in hand with service providers to continue this effort. I want to make sure there is no excuse for not wearing a mask. 

Allowing ‘Take Out and Delivery’ Banners in LA

 There was news last week that the Department of Building and Safety issued fines to local restaurants who hung banners on their property advertising takeout and delivery options. Though most un-permitted signage is illegal, right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to do everything we can to help keep all restaurants and businesses up and running. Being able to communicate clearly is critical to their survival and it’s important for the public trying to navigate food and services options during the crises. That is why I introduced legislation to allow these signs during the emergency and drop all fines associated with citations that had been issued.

Please, if you can afford to, continue to shop local and support neighborhood restaurants and stores. Many residents and businesses are struggling through this emergency and every dollar spent locally goes a long way.

Debate on Special Clean Up Zones

The Council debated a motion to resume “Care Plus” clean ups surrounding Bridge Housing sites. One of the issues that has arisen with the COVID 19 pandemic is that the CDC has guidelines to not clear encampments during this time of crisis for fear of spreading the virus, unless housing is available. The Care Plus clean ups do not ‘clear’ encampments, but they do require people living on the street to move temporarily (average 2 hours) while the street is sanitized and cleaned.  The people are given between 24 - 72 hours notice before any care plus cleanups take place and are given at least 30 minutes once sanitation arrives before the actual clean-up begins. 

When Councilmembers and advocates went to the community before the pandemic started, one of the most important items to earn the support of nearby neighbors was the promise of consistent Care plus clean ups surrounding bridge homes.  Neighbors feared that the site would be a magnet for more encampments and potentially more trash and debris.  The City promised not only that the bridge homes were meant to take in and prioritize the people who were living on the streets in close proximity to that location and therefore there would be less people living on those streets, but that the City would go the extra mile to keep those streets clean of trash and debris via Care Plus clean ups. 

The motion that passed by a 10 to 4 vote ( I supported it) will not immediately impact the West Valley because our Bridge Housing site is not set to open until the end of the year. The Council was split on this motion and members of the public called in with legitimate concerns about whether or not it was safe given the pandemic to ask people to move, even if it was only for a few hours.  I tried to address this concern by offering an amendment that would have enabled the Care Plus clean-ups only once we reached “stage 3” in the Governor’s pandemic response — basically saying that when it was safe to allow the general public to go inside of restaurants, it should be safe to ask homeless people to leave their location for several hours.  My amendment did not receive a majority of votes, as some members wanted the Care Plus clean up right away (while we’re in Phase 2) and some simply don’t want Care Plus cleanups at all.

There were a number of public commenters who were concerned that Care Plus was the same as “sweeps” and would involve a heavy police presence.  Sanitation officials responded by clarifying that it is not the same and that Police do not necessarily even have to be involved.  The question of how the Police are involved or not involved in these Care Plus cleanups is still being worked out and has implications beyond Care Plus cleanups near bridge home locations.  

This issue continues to highlight the need for more creative housing solutions like tiny homes/pallet shelters, congregate housing, modular homes, etc.  To truly get people off the streets and eliminate encampments in our city we need someplace people can go and be connected with help.  The Courts have made it clear in multiple court cases that we cannot enforce anti-camping laws unless and until there is shelter available.  However, there is a pending federal court case being heard by US Judge David Carter that may actually help enable this outcome through a global, but district specific settlement agreement.  To read my thoughts about this, click here


Update on Judge Carter- Shelter Beds Are Key to Progress on Homelessness

Published with the Valley News Group on June 25, 2020

In the first three months of 2020, Woodland Hills made the most 311 service calls related to homelessness in the City, even though it has fewer homeless people than the vast majority of LA’s communities (see here).  The best way to reduce calls is moving people off the street, and the key to that is building new shelters in the West Valley. Whether people like the idea or hate it, we simply must create more beds in our communities in order to move people off the street and have some ability to enforce anti-camping laws.

I understand why people are calling, frustrated by the growing encampments — especially under freeways.  I’m frustrated too. Despite sending City CARE teams to the underpasses every week, personally going to these sites with LAHSA workers, the attempts I’ve made to enact special high transit corridor legislation, and offering every underpass dweller in my district refuge at one of the temporary COVID Rec Center shelters, the underpasses are still encampment hotspots.

Like so many of my constituents, I’m tired of it, of people not receiving lifesaving services, and of being told that Court decisions prevent the City from moving tents, bulky items, or having much control beyond briefly enforcing ADA access. It’s not right for nearby communities or for the people living in squalor, breathing the exhaust.

Hope for positive change is on the horizon.  Because of a new agreement reached between the County and City of Los Angeles, two major stumbling blocks to progress are being removed.  Of critical importance, this agreement is being overseen and will be enforceable by a Federal Judge, David Carter. He is the Judge that presided over homeless cases in Orange County, is presiding over the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights v. L.A. case, and has spent months meeting with local leaders grappling with the real world impacts of homelessness.

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Time to Establish a New Community- Based Public Safety Program to Address Non- Criminal Matters

Today I co-authored a measure directing city agencies to report on establishing a community-based public safety program to respond to calls on noncriminal matters involving mental health and homelessness.  

Everyday LAPD officers respond to non-criminal calls because we simply don't have any other mechanism to immediately address these needs. It’s unfair to ask officers to do the job of a social or public health worker and it’s wrong to perpetuate the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness. The time is now to rethink how we use our resources to meet these needs and get healthy outcomes.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has made significant investments in training officers so they are able to perform community-oriented duties that may fall outside the parameters of traditional policing, such as responding to calls involving drug overdoses or mental health crises. These are calls for which an armed, uniformed response may not be most effective. Responding to these calls takes officers away from regular patrol duties and impacts their ability to respond to other calls for service. Such calls might be better managed by civilian responders who are specially trained in handling noncriminal issues.

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Release of the 2020 LAHSA Greater LA Homeless Count Results

Today, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of the 2020 Homeless Count and it shows a 13.6% (41,290) rise in homeless in the City of LA and a 12.7% (66,433) increase across the County of LA. In 2019, the rehousing system helped 22,769 people get into permanent housing, which is an unprecedented and impressive increase in placements. But, the sad reality is that more Angelenos are falling into homelessness than ever before. Though the council district specific numbers won’t be available for a few more days, it’s projected to show that the West Valley still has among the lowest homeless population compared to other communities in the city, but that doesn't negate the very serious humanitarian and quality of life crisis we still face.
 
We must do better to meet the need for shelter, permanent housing and services and I am hopeful that a negotiated settlement or district specific consent decree will enable a quantum leap in progress. I have had several meetings with Federal Judge David Carter who is presiding on the case that could yield this outcome, and a first step injunction which will enable us to provide shelter for those living under the freeway underpasses and simultaneously keep those underpasses clear is close at hand.
 
One thing remains very clear, we need more housing. Renters in LA County need to earn $41.96 per hour — 2.8x the City of L.A. minimum wage or about $87,000 per year — to afford the average monthly asking rent of $2,182. According to the 2020 CA Housing Partnership report, LA needs 509,000 new affordable housing units to meet current demand.
 
It’s a good step that 18,395 people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County were sheltered, up from 14,722 the previous year, a 27% increase. The impact of the “A Bridge Home” program was seen in the 39% increase in the City of Los Angeles sheltered population, from 8,944 to 12,438. Additionally 700 Permanent Supportive Housing units (PSH) came on line this year and 2,360 more units will open in the next 12 months.
 
However, here are some very troubling insights the report outlines:
 
• 20% increase in seniors 62+
 
• 45.7% increase in families
 
• 59% of newly homeless cite economic hardship as main reason
 
• 35% of unsheltered adults 18+ have a history of domestic, intimate partner and other sexual violence
 
• 19% increase in transition-aged youth (18-24)
 
• 555,105 of LA households are severely rent burdened
 
• 80% of unsheltered Angelenos have lived here for more than five years and two-thirds of unsheltered Angelenos became homeless in Los Angeles County
 
• There are glaring racial discrepancies as 8% of the overall population is black, but black people represent 34% of the homeless community
 
• Also this year LAHSA restructured survey questions on substance use while confirming previous estimates of mental health conditions. 14,284 unsheltered people (32%) report substance use, roughly double the prevalence under the previous methodology. 26% of unsheltered, or 11,711 people, report long-term mental health conditions.
 
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ONEgeneration Weekly Food Bank Drive-Thru Month of May


Donating to Non-Profits during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Friend,                                                                    

Our West Valley non-profits are on the front lines in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.  While they may not be providing direct medical services, they are providing food, supplies and other essential support for people who are being impacted by the virus medically and financially. Many of these non-profits are experiencing a spike in community need at the very same time they are losing resources. Food Pantries have long lines and more clients than ever, while at the same time, many of their regular donors are not giving because either their businesses are closed, or they no longer have overstock groceries to give. Also, many of their regular volunteers are staying home because they are in a high-risk category because of age or underlying condition.

I’m writing to solicit your help. Please join me in donating funds to these important West Valley non-profits. I have re-organized my district office discretionary budget to free up more than $100,000 and I have donated all of this money to the below listed West Valley non-profit organizations. These are all groups with whom I’ve worked with throughout the years and know first-hand about their extraordinary work. Each group filled out a simple donation application form where they described their need and how they would spend emergency funds. Please consider making a donation to any or all of these organizations.

For your convenience, I have hyperlinked each organization’s website below so that you can see for yourself what they need and read about their mission. It would mean a lot to our community and to me if you are able to help by donating. Also, please send me an email about your donation, so that I can thank you properly, and I can keep track of the totals.

Also, please be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get time-sensitive local updates. My team and I are doing a lot of creative things to help fight against this pandemic and help provide relief for residents. And, if you or someone you know needs help, please contact my office at (818)774-4330 so that we can connect you with that assistance or the person or organization that can help.

These are trying times but we will get through them. Thank you for considering this appeal. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Take care.


Update on Homeless Efforts in COVID-19- Questions From Our Town Hall

The COVID-19 emergency has disrupted events, schools, businesses, families, and city services, it has also had an impact on homelessness.  In an effort to prevent many more people from falling into homelessness, emergency critical policy changes such as an eviction moratorium, a two week paid sick leave mandate and immediate financial aid programs have been enacted.  And, in an effort to help prevent the virus from ravaging the homeless population and endangering nearby communities, the City and State are attempting to reduce the density of existing homeless encampments and offer refuge for homeless people by opening up emergency shelters in hotels, motels and at certain Recreation centers.  While thousands of homeless people have accepted this emergency shelter, many of the encampments in the 101 underpasses and throughout the City are looking worse than they have previously. While COVID-19 is part of the reason that tents are staying up and more visible, there are several additional factors that are important to understand. 

Recently I hosted a COVID-19 telephone town hall with medical and small business experts to explore facts and resources and offer our community an opportunity to ask questions on these topics.  Out of the more than 100 questions which were asked but not covered during the limited time of the call, about a dozen were on homeless-related topics.  Consequently,  I am attempting to answer these questions in this written format.  

In short, no one should have to live on a sidewalk under a freeway, it is not a humane way to live. And, no one should have to feel afraid to go for a walk in their own neighborhood or have their sidewalks blocked by tents, clutter and debris. If the City could move everyone into a shelter or into supportive housing today we would do so.  If the City could force drug addicts into drug treatment programs or force very mentally ill people into treatment, it would. The Courts have told us that once there are enough housing or shelter beds available for most of the homeless in the City than we can then enforce the anti-camping laws that are on the books that currently they do not allow us to enforce.  And,  the County Public Health Department which is the lead during the Pandemic (the City doesn’t itself have a health department or health programs) has determined that it is safer for everyone not to force people to take down their tens during the daytime, but to leave them where they are as the moving them around during this pandemic risks a faster spread of the virus. 

Hot spot encampments like the 101 underpasses persist  even though we go out with LAHSA to meet with homeless people to offer services and shelter. Sanitation comes for trash pickup but has a very limited ability to remove bulky items.  A very recent Court case (Garcia) made it extremely impractical to remove couches, mattresses and other bulky items from encampments which used to be removed routinely.  Although we work with LAHSA and law enforcement to try to get people off the streets and enforce ADA compliance (3 feet passibility on sidewalks), there are still too many unsheltered people on the streets throughout the City and in my district. 

Why are some Rec Centers being used as homeless shelters and will they return to normal after the crisis?

In March the Mayor ordered that Recreation centers throughout the city be converted into temporary homeless shelters because the city needed facilities to give unsheltered people sanitary conditions to live through the COVID-19 emergency.  It is extremely difficult to shelter in place, if you have no place.  His selections were based on ADA accessibility and facilities with hot showers. The Woodland Hills Rec Center is the only one in my district and it is hosting 35 people in the gym and ten more in FEMA trailers in the parking lot.  The trailers are being used for seniors (age 65+) and people with underlying health issues who are not infected by the Virus. After the pandemic, the Rec Centers will transition back to being Rec Centers.  They need to be Recreation Centers because of the important role they play in our community and because the City Charter requires it. 

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My Meeting with Judge Carter on the Future of Homelessness in LA

An abridged version of this article appeared in the LA Daily News on April 19, 2020

Exploring a solution for homelessness has been vexing, heartbreaking and frustrating. As a City we have allocated more than $1 billion, yet more people are on the street despite the progress we’ve made toward new temporary and permanent housing.  The COVID-19 crisis has created a new health urgency to get people off the street and into temporary beds at Recreation Centers including Woodland Hills and local hotel/motel rooms. 

Homeless people were already dying on the streets at an alarming rate, but the Pandemic could exponentially increase those numbers in ways that would shock the conscious of even the most callous among us.  Furthermore, the pandemic has made it painfully clear that the horrid conditions people without shelter live in do not just impact the greater community’s mental health/conscious, but can literally impact its physical health as well.   

When the pandemic is over, we will be at a homelessness crossroads and have to decide whether to return people back to the streets or find the fortitude and funding to keep them sheltered — even if those shelters are less than ideal.

In the past basic shelters such as safe parking, tiny houses, hotel/motel repurposing, and sanctioned encampments as we’re seeing at the Westside VA  have been opposed both by homeless advocates who viewed it as an abandonment of the higher, more noble vision of permanent housing and by community activists who believed that such housing would degrade their neighborhood and would be a magnet for more homelessness.

I did not imagine that it would be possible to unite these two opponents around the common purpose of providing more shelters until a few days ago when I met with Judge David O. Carter of the US Central District Court in California who is presiding over a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for failing to protect public health and safety and to provide homeless shelters. Honestly I was very apprehensive about meeting the Judge that blocked Orange County’s effort to clear homeless camps along the Santa Ana River trail, but who ultimately helped put together a settlement which forced more shelters to be opened. Since Judge Carter was coming to my district to see firsthand the unique aspects of homelessness we face in the city’s West Valley, I wanted to show him.

Judge_Carter_1.jpg

I candidly shared my concerns about the restrictions, impractical mandates and contradictory rulings that his Federal Courts have foisted upon the City when it comes to addressing homelessness.  This included the recent ruling (Garcia) that makes it extremely difficult to remove bulky items, the ‘Boise’ decision that neutered anti-camping laws, the Jones settlement that dealt with sleeping on the sidewalks, etc.  All of these decisions partly explains why encampment hot spots appear to be growing, creating greater health and safety issues despite the fact that more people have been provided shelter over the past several weeks than ever before.

I let him know how I get many complaints from legitimately frustrated local residents about our encampments, and about the anger many of them justifiably express.  We talked about how frustrated the police get with the rules and how crazy it is that someone can literally be killing themselves with drugs or be severely mentally ill but not be ‘gravely disabled’ enough under State law to be forced into treatment or safe shelter. 

 

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