New Approach to Clean Ups Around Bridge Housing

When my staff and I were doing community outreach for our new transitional Bridge Housing site ‘The Willows,’ we promised the neighbors and local business owners that if they welcomed this needed project, the streets and sidewalks around the site would receive extra care and cleaning. This is a promise I will keep. However, for transparency, decency, and building trust within the unhoused community, the protocols for clean ups within these “special enforcement and cleaning zones” (SECZ) around Bridge Housing sites need to be clear, predictable and about cleaning up, not about making an already difficult living situation even more difficult for an unhoused person.

Many areas have not had a comprehensive cleaning in over a year. This is true for the SECZ around the Willows that will become officially operative on Monday. A comprehensive cleaning, unlike a standard spot cleaning, requires that an unhoused person remove all of their possessions, including their tent, prior to the cleaning. Possessions that are left behind during such a clean up are either labeled and stored by the City or thrown away if the Environmental Compliance Officer (ECI) on site determines they are soiled or hazardous. SECZ near bridge homes can provide notice to folks by having signage that indicates when the clean up will occur. 

I regularly visit the people who live in the encampments within the Willow’s SECZ. Some of the folks keep their areas clean, but others do not and I have seen vermin within layers of trash on a regular basis. This is inhumane and while we are building more and more housing, I don’t think the answer is to allow encampments to become an unmitigated health and safety disaster in the meantime. There must be balance between cleaning our community and the humane treatment of unhoused Angelenos.

IMG_8778.jpgFrom my outreach with Pastor Huck on Friday morning (2-26) discussing upcoming cleanups with unhoused residents near the Bridge Housing SECZ.

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Update on Homeless Housing and New Storage Issue

As the City works to build new shelter, housing and services for homeless Angelenos, we face a number of complex and uncomfortable policy questions that arise when people leave the streets. How do we store or remove people’s possessions that remain on public property after they have moved into a shelter?


My district is finally on its way toward getting a fair share of help for its homeless population, in part thanks to federal Judge David O. Carter’s proceedings in the LA Alliance case. We’ve opened the Willows Bridge Housing in Canoga Park in partnership with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl guaranteeing 15 years of County services, and purchased two hotels to convert into housing. Also we will open two tiny home cabin communities and a new Safe Parking lot.


At the Willows, Kevin’s troubling situation raised some glaring problems right away. I first met Kevin a few years ago at the farmer’s market and we’ve been checking in ever since. A long time Canoga Park resident, he attended Canoga Park High School over 30 years ago. For years he’s been living in the public right of way just blocks from the Willows. His encampment was the largest on the block with bicycles stored on the curb and a lot of stuff. Kevin is a talented artist/mechanic who built interesting custom bikes for people. Trained as a machinist, he treasures his custom tools.


I have been fighting to ensure that this new West Valley shelter actually houses people from our community, and Kevin was a perfect match. He was very excited and was literally the first in on opening day. However, the Willows allows clients to store some belongings, but they don’t have room for all of Kevin’s possessions. He had a plan and was loading his property into an RV and a pickup truck that he borrowed.


Unfortunately, the Department of Sanitation and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) came by to spot clean, and things went south. Spot cleanings in and around encampments remove trash and hazardous materials. By law, anything blocking ADA or street access can be taken, but Sanitation logs and stores every item so people can reclaim them. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened and why. Some of Kevin’s things were stored or thrown away. Kevin was understandably very upset and a number of activists took videos and protested. Some spread misinformation claiming that this was a special enforcement zone cleanup, which it wasn’t; claiming everything was thrown away including his tools and bicycles, which weren’t; some claimed that I was directly involved. None of that is true. But, they were correct that Kevin deserved to be treated better. Ideally he needed better communication, a chance to decide what he didn’t need and enough time to pack up.


Personal possessions on the street need a solution. Some think that leaving items in the public right of way is acceptable, even if the City/taxpayers are paying for a person to have shelter/housing. I disagree. As more housing opens, this will continue to come up. What to do with someone’s belongings on public property? We can’t and shouldn’t leave everything as a monument to a past encampment.


That unfortunately happened in some spots along the 101 freeway after 59 people got shelter working with Judge Carter last fall in our LAHSA pilot project. Most belongings were removed with consent when people took shelter. But piles of stuff remained in a few locations and attracted new people to set up there. I urged Sanitation to clean up these encampment vestiges, they were not legally allowed to remove seemingly abandoned property.


Our streets and sidewalks must be clean and usable while preserving the rights of unsheltered people who have nowhere else to go. The courts have said if someone is unsheltered, their belongings should be left alone. Per the Boise v. Martin case, if a city offers shelter, it can regulate where people are allowed to sit, sleep, lie, or store belongings to allow clear public right of ways.


When people move into government subsidized shelter or housing, they might have to
downsize. However, storage programs would make this easier and help prevent them from storing things in public spaces.


A few weeks ago, my team and I worked with “Pastor Don” to convince a chronically homeless man with mental health issues to accept housing. Pastor Don solved this problem by paying for a temporary storage unit. This was the help he needed that LA rarely provides.


As people take shelter we must have the tough discussion about what to do with belongings left on the streets. Can we build trust with unhoused people who have traditionally been let down by the system? We can’t let stuff sit on the streets and sidewalks forever. We need clear protocols so everyone understands the rules and how they are implemented.


Otherwise, many more people will be in Kevin’s position- with both housing and tents,
preventing the City from being able to keep the sidewalks clear. Communities that say yes to more housing and services for the most vulnerable deserve better.


Statement on LAPD Topanga Station Rumors

A few individuals have started to spread false rumors about the LAPD Topanga Police Station. I absolutely will do everything in my power to prevent station closures and ensure that first responders have the resources they need to keep our communities safe. I continue to be a steadfast supporter of all three of the stations in my district — Topanga, West Valley and Devonshire — and am extremely grateful to the brave men and women who protect and serve our community every day.
 
Indeed, we are in financially perilous times right now and it’s important to understand what is and isn’t happening with regard to the Police budget and other City Departments budgets.
  
- The City is currently facing a $675 million deficit. LAPD Chief Michel Moore has said that if draconian cuts happen, some stations could face closure. This would be awful and must be avoided, and I’ll continue to fight to prevent closures.
 
- The City Administrative Officer (CAO) recommended beginning to prepare for a worst-case scenario, which in their view could mean laying off more than 900 police officers. This is not acceptable, even during our current budget crisis.
 
- I’m fighting for far less drastic cuts in the Budget Committee. I instructed the CAO to look for other alternative cuts, and to limit even the possibility of layoffs to far fewer officers. While I’m very concerned about even considering these layoffs, the budget shortfall is too dire to ignore options.
 
- I strongly opposed a proposal to spend $90 million of the unallocated funds set aside during the June budget process on a series of Council directed projects. I refused to support new spending when we’re considering layoffs, especially when those funds could help preserve jobs and services. Though the full Council passed the spending proposal over my objections, I was pleased that the Mayor vetoed it.
 
- I’ll continue to urge our State (which currently has an upwards surplus of $26 billion) and Federal governments to offer relief to prevent layoffs of police, firefighters, and other city workers. I urge everyone to reach out to our State and Federal representatives to let them know we need emergency funding to prevent serious cuts.
  
I want to be clear: while I support creating alternative 911 non-armed responses for certain non-violent situations, I do not support and have never supported extreme “defunding of our police.” Alternative interventions can allow police to focus on real crime, can save money, and can produce better outcomes. I’ll strongly fight against any closure of the Topanga, West Valley, and Devonshire Police Stations – and I’ll keep the community informed.
 

New Stay at Home Orders

This week there was some confusing news around the Mayor’s announcement of the modified COVID-19 ‘Stay at Home’ order. Essentially all his new order does is bring the city in-line with the LA County guidelines that took effect on Monday. On Thursday, the Governor issued a new order which will be applicable soon for regions with high strains on health care services including eleven counties in Southern California.
LA is in a dire situation right now. More people are testing positive and being hospitalized than any other time during the pandemic. The Governor and County have been clear that if these rates continue to go up more restrictions will go into effect, especially in areas where health care services are under significant pressure. Health officials are asking us to stay at home as much as possible and to continue to abide by physical distancing and following hygienic guidelines. Though many of my colleagues and I voiced our serious concerns about the impacts of recent closure of outdoor dining, most of these decisions are in the hands of our County Health Commissioner and the county supervisors. But it’s up to all of us to do what we can to stop the spread, bring the positivity rate down and keep ourselves, our families, and community safe.
So, what does this new order actually mean? Below are some key points from the Mayor’s and County’s health orders:
-All public and private gatherings of any number of people from more than one household are prohibited, except for outdoor faith-based services and people participating in an outdoor protest.
-People stay home as much as possible except for essential activities.
-If you can telecommute from home, please do so to avoid leaving your home.
Beyond essential businesses, the following will remain open:
-City Parks and Trails
-Beaches for active recreation
Here are the key issues in the upcoming order from Governor Newsom:
 
-For the next three weeks personal services including hair and nail salons will be closed and restaurants will be required to return to take-out service only.
-Retail businesses must operate at 20% of capacity inside at any one time.
There is a lot of hope on the vaccine horizon but over the next few weeks we need to do what we can to lower the positivity and hospitalization rate. Please stay home when possible, continue to physically distance, and help mitigate unnecessary risks.
To learn more about the Mayor’s order, go to https://www.lamayor.org/sites/g/files/wph446/f/page/file/20201202%20Mayor%20Public%20Order%20Targeted%20SAH%20Order_1.pdf.
 

New COVID-19 Guidelines

Seven day COVID-19 cases averages have nearly doubled since the beginning of November and hospitalizations have increased from an average of about 900 a day to well over 1,000 a day in the same time period. On Thursday, November 18, over 5,000 new cases were reported in LA County.

The first measures, effective today, are:

  • For non-essential businesses permitted to operate indoors - including retail stores, offices, personal care services - occupancy will be limited to 25% maximum capacity.
  • The number of patrons at outdoor restaurants, breweries and wineries will be limited to 50% max outdoor capacity
  • The number of customers at cardrooms, outdoor mini-golf, go-karts and batting cages will be limited to 50% maximum outdoor capacity.
  • Services at personal care establishments may only be provided by appointment to customers wearing face coverings by staff wearing face coverings.
    • Services that require either the customer of the staff to remove their face covering, such as facials and shaves, are not permitted.
    • Food and drinks cannot be served at these establishments to customers
  • Restaurants, breweries, wineries, bars, and all other non-essential retail establishments must close from 10:00PM to 6:00AM
  • Outdoor gatherings remain the only gatherings permitted, and they must only include 15 people maximum who are members of no more than 3 households

More restrictions could be on the way if the number of daily cases increases.

If the five-day average of cases in LA County becomes 4,000 or more or hospitalizations are more than 1,750 per day, the following restriction will be added:

  • Outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars will be prohibited and these businesses will only be able to offer pick-up and delivery. Businesses in this sector are being notified via email by the Department of Public Health, which will work with them to ensure a smooth transition.

If the five-day average of cases in LA County becomes 4,500 or more or hospitalizations are more than 2,000 per day, (LA County reported more than 5,000 new cases on Thursday, November 18) the following restrictions will be added:

  • A Safer at Home order will be instituted for three weeks. The Order would only allow essential workers and those securing essential services to leave their homes.
  • A 10:00PM to 6:00AM curfew will be mandated, with essential workers exempt.

For the latest news and developments, please use the LA County Health Department's page on COVID-19


Important Update on Underpasses

The Underpasses are Cleared, But for How Long?

If you’re no longer seeing people camping under the 101, it’s the successful result of an intensive location-based LAHSA pilot project to provide housing to everyone living along the freeway in my district. Alternative walkways are far away and these critical pedestrian corridors connect homes with schools, stores, houses of worship, and jobs. I’ve spent several months working in underpasses with my staff, LAHSA, LA Family Housing, and Volunteers of America. Through our efforts, those unhoused voluntarily accepted shelter without any LAPD presence.

Now the challenge is to keep these underpasses clear. Lawsuits and the lack of constitutional, enforceable, humane anti-camping ordinances have prevented the City from being able to keep these areas clear now that everyone has been given and accepted shelter.

The time is now to put an enforceable law on the books. Federal Judge David O. Carter has found that freeway underpasses are unsafe and unhealthy places to live and that the homeless people encamped there must be relocated. The City must do its part to pass a humane ordinance that will prevent camping in these underpasses after offering an appropriate alternative. 

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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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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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