LAHSA 2019 Homeless Count Results Unveiled- What it Means for the West Valley

Published in Valley News Group Papers June 6, 2019

Anyone who drives Ventura Boulevard, rides the LA River Bike Path, or walks their neighborhood knows that the West Valley is in the midst of a homelessness emergency. Even though the area has fewer homeless people than any other part of the city, it is still a human tragedy for those experiencing homelessness, a quality of life issue for the entire community, and a moral issue that tears at our collective soul.

The 2019 LAHSA Homeless Count results released this week are both awful and frustrating, but they reflect some progress that we must continue to build on.  Homelessness increased 12% in the County to 59,000 people, and 16% in the City to 36,000.  Ventura, Orange and Kern Counties saw double, triple and quadruple the increases we saw in LA County. Throughout the City there was an 8% increase in homeless families and youth homelessness rose 24%. More seniors became homelessness with a 7% increase and folks 55-61 went up almost 20%. Also, the number of homeless women increased 14%. Since 2018, a whopping 63% of homeless people are homeless for the first time and 29% have a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder. In my district there was a substantial increase from 607 to 885 people on our streets. One of the most shocking facts is that homeless people who have experienced domestic violence (DV) spiked 42%, with well over 12,000 DV victims on our streets.

At the same time, more than 20,000 formerly homeless people now have homes, and 90% of folks who enter Rapid Re-Housing are staying housed. LAHSA has expanded their legal services, helping avoid evictions and mediating with landlords to prevent tenants from becoming homeless. With Prop HHH funds, 10,000 units are in the pipeline and 1,400 supportive units will open this year. But, right now more people are falling into homelessness for the first-time and we must continue to push for more innovative policies that will both help lift people out of homelessness and help prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.

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Are you Interested in Serving our City as a Commissioner or Adviser? Let Us Know

Are you interested in serving as a commissioner or adviser? The City of Los Angeles has many appointed boards that oversee or advise various departments. Most are appointed by the Mayor, but some are appointed by Councilmembers for specific areas or roles.

For example, I am currently reviewing nominations for an appointee for the City of Los Angeles Health Commission which has a mission to determine the health needs of the people of the City of Los Angeles, find out whether those needs are being met, and to help determine the best and most cost effective ways of meeting those needs.

I am also looking to appoint someone to the Community Forest Advisory Committee (CFAC), a committee that works with the City to promote and improve the urban forest, and advises on best practices regarding planting, maintaining and replacing trees.

The Department of Aging seeks older Angelenos to serve on their Advisory Council. When called upon for appointments by the Mayor, I will be happy to recommend residents from the 3rd Council District. A full list of commissions and their members can be found here.

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Update- Dockless Scooters in Los Angeles

Yesterday, the City Council adopted formal regulations for a pilot program that creates rules and regulations for operators of electric scooter and bikeshare systems across Los Angeles. Except for a limited bikeshare pilot at Cal State Northridge, the West Valley hasn’t seen many of these vehicles, but that could change in the near future. Dockless scooters, as well as electric and pedal bikes, can be a game changer by providing alternatives to driving for short, local trips and enhancing connections to the Orange Line and other transit. While Los Angeles needs to embrace more mobility options, it must also work to ensure the safety of riders and pedestrians.

As Chair of the Public Works Committee, I (and my staff) spend many hours working to craft a sensible set of regulations. In recent months, two companies have flooded the Westside with thousands of scooters; I worked to ensure that companies that are playing by the rules and waiting for the City to act are not boxed out of markets but are able to obtain temporary permits. In addition, the program includes the following important elements:

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Los Angeles Must Embrace Dockless Scooters with Sensible Safety Regulations

Over the past few months, the dockless electric scooter movement has swept across Southern California. We don’t know whether this is just a fad like the Segway or a long-term addition to our transportation landscape. Like other cities, Los Angeles is grappling with how to facilitate this new alternative transport mode, while also ensuring public safety and common sense regulations. I believe that dockless scooters, as well as other personal mobility services such as electric bicycles, have a future in Los Angeles and can be an asset to our transportation network, but require strong safety regulations and accountability.

Many Angelenos are zipping around town on these scooters-and they appear to be having a lot of fun. I was recently running late for a meeting; I pulled out my phone, opened an app, rented a scooter, and rolled to my destination without using a car, without breaking a sweat, and with a smile on my face. These scooters can be a game changer.

Los Angeles needs alternatives to driving, including electric scooters. Cars generate up to a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, which concerns me as an environmentalist committed to battling climate change. We suffer from crushing traffic congestion, yet nearly half of all trips in the Los Angeles area are less than 3 miles. Scooters can take cars off the road, and can be especially useful for ‘first and last mile’ connections between transit stations and our homes, jobs and schools.

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Neighborhood Watches Help Prevent Crime and Bring Communities Closer

-Published in Valley News Group Publications Week of July 3rd, 2018-

In the West San Fernando Valley, we are fortunate to have many of the city’s safest neighborhoods. One way these communities have worked together to prevent crime is by forming neighborhood watches, locally organized residents who work with the Senior Lead Officers at LAPD and my office.  For example, last week I walked a stretch of the Los Angeles River with the Kittridge Neighborhood Watch led by Evelyn Aleman and LAPD Senior Lead Officer Bocanegra. This group literally “walks the walk” to report problems that need fixing, whether broken lights, accumulated trash, or vandalism.

In College Acres, an active group of resident volunteers make nightly rounds and have taken pride in their community. Some of their efforts are as simple as walking their dogs in the evening and keeping an eye on things. They have added visibility by wearing safety vests that say neighborhood watch. I liked that idea so much that I have purchased safety vests in bulk for other neighborhood watch groups that wish to do regular walks or patrols. If you are part of a watch group that wants to wear those vests while patrolling your neighborhood, give my office a call.

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Update on the Creation of the Warner Center Implementation Board

-Published in Valley News Group Publications Week of June 12, 2018-

I am happy to announce that on Wednesday, June 13th, the City Council voted to approve the ordinance which establishes the Warner Center 2035 Plan Implementation Board. This has been a herculean undertaking, and finally puts one of the last pieces in place to implement the vision of the Warner Center 2035 Plan (the Plan). This is long overdue.

The board, which will be made up of by a wide variety of community stakeholders, will provide a community-based entity that will ensure transparency and needed local input on how mitigations under the Plan will be identified and prioritized. This includes how funds from development within Warner Center will be utilized and leveraged to complete mitigations quickly and efficiently. The majority of these mitigations are related to necessary transit and transportation improvements required under the Plan, as well as how the area is marketed and beautification is completed and maintained.  In addition, this board will assist in establishing the Neighborhood Protection Plans for the surrounding neighborhoods, provide oversight of City Department’s implementation of the Plan, and proffer general advice on how to make sure the objectives of the Plan are met.

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LAHSA Releases New Homeless Count Statistics- What They Mean for the West Valley

-Published by the Valley News Group on 5-31-18-

Homelessness continues to be ‘the’ issue and on Thursday May 31st, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released their annual count, illuminating the evolving emergency.

The big news, according to LAHSA, is 5% fewer people live on LA’s city streets – down from 33,138 in 2017 to 31,516 in 2018. As a region, Los Angeles County reduced homelessness from 55,048 to 53,195 - a -3% change over the last year. This is the first decrease in 4 years and a step in the right direction.

In my district, the count fell from 629 to 608, again the lowest in the city, a -3% change and welcome progress. However, I share the frustrations I hear from my constituents that change isn’t happening fast enough as we see people at freeway underpasses and RV’s on commercial corridors. Panhandling or loitering seem to be growing despite the Count’s good news. Valley homelessness impacts our community’s quality of life and must be addressed. 

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Ending Blight from “Donation” Bins

-Published by the Valley New Group-

From outside convenience stores, to strip malls, to parishes, it is easy to find donation bins on private lots throughout Los Angeles fixed with the D.A.R.E logo or another from a reputable organization. Many have trash strewn about nearby or have collected items left behind by those less fortunate. These bins are not allowed in the right-of-way but these donation bins have become a prevalent blight in parking lots in the West Valley and our entire region. I have heard from concerned residents about this issue. Their concern didn’t stem from seeing donation bins in the parking lots, rather it was because they became magnets for trash, bulky items and homeless encampments growing nearby. Over the past few months, my staff and I have been investigating who exactly owns these bins, how they got there, whether the donated goods actually go to good causes, and when they are sources of blight, what can we do to remove them from private land. The results are not what many would expect.

The first fact is that the goods are not directly given to people in need. We found that organizations like D.A.R.E hold licensing agreements with consignment companies such as Unirag that sell the goods for profit. These companies have gone around to businesses, sometimes without the permission of the property owners, and placed these bins on their private property, as well as in the public right of way (without City authorization). They slap a big D.A.R.E logo on it to convey legitimacy. But there have been serious problems between these companies and business owners even if authorization to place bins was given. 

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Update on the Promenade 2035 Plan

Recently, the Department of City Planning (DCP) released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Promenade 2035 project in Warner Center. Westfield's Promenade 2035 master plan offers great potential for the West Valley, however it is important for all of us to understand the risks and benefits that a project of this scale and breadth entails. The release of the DEIR is welcome and needed, and is a key step in evaluating how this project could impact the West Valley. There is a lot of information to digest and we are working closely with the Department of City Planning to understand the document and suggested mitigations.

It comes as no surprise that impacts on traffic and noise pollution were identified and will need to be a major part of the conversation around this project. These issues are important to address and I will continue to press Westfield to create viable and creative solutions to do so.

I encourage our community members to review the documentation and comment by June 11th on any concerns or thoughts you have related to Westfield's DEIR. This community feedback is important to the process and to me in order to ensure that your ideas are heard and taken into consideration. Robust feedback on this DEIR will enable us as a community to work closely with Westfield to make their project better for our community.

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Democracy Depends on Independent Journalism by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

- Published by the Valley News Group -

While some people think of journalists and elected officials as rivals or ‘hunter and hunted’- the truth is we are symbiotic. Consequently, I have a front row seat and stake in what it happening to the ‘fourth estate,’ and I am very concerned.

When I was 9 years old, my life changed because I signed up to be a youth reporter with ‘Children's Express.’ Through this great opportunity, I learned so much including interview techniques, research skills, and how to investigate and report. I also learned that every story has different perspectives. Though I eventually chose a different professional path, I have always had the utmost respect for journalists and have tried to continue those values in my life. Now, as a policy maker, I rely on independent journalism to help me do my job. I fear that if the current trend continues, we will have fewer reliable sources shining the light on the critical issues of the day. This is particularly important in a city as big and sprawling as Los Angeles. Good policies happen when the electorate is informed and engaged.

Over the past few months, local journalism in Los Angeles has experienced a severe shock. From deep personnel cuts at the Southern California News Groups and LA Weekly, to the loss of the LAist and the EGP News, to chronic upheaval between the LA Times newsroom and Tronc, we have seen a steady weakening of crucial local institutions.  Though it is very hopeful to read that the LA Times is poised to return to local ownership soon, our region is losing important platforms and seasoned reporters and, if this trend continues, the health and wellbeing of our civic institutions will be at risk. We rely on local journalists to hold decision makers like me accountable and ensure transparency. Our democracy depends on it. We can’t take good, quality, independent journalism for granted because if we do, it will be gone.

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