Published with the Valley News Group- 3.11.2021
The Woodland Hills and Warner Center community will never forget the devastation of the Woolsey Fire which burned portions of Malibu to the ground. While we are grateful that it didn’t jump the fire line at Topanga, it was a painful reminder for me and others to take action now to prevent devastation of large fires in our neighborhoods. Facing the reality of climate change, fires like Woolsey may become the new normal. While we may hope for the best, we need to plan for the worst.
Even before the Woolsey Fire, I was working with experts to make construction more fire-resistant. I first introduced new building standards legislation after the 2014 downtown Da Vinci arson fire that leveled a three-story apartment building under construction. That fire cost $70 million in property damage to nearby buildings, including the adjacent LADWP building. Luckily no lives were lost.
In 2018 Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked me to serve on the County’s Woolsey Fire Task Force with leaders from the Los Angeles Fire Department, LA County, and others to analyze and produce an after-action report with recommendations to make our region safer from inevitable future fires. Among the conclusions of the report is that local governments need to update building codes to “harden the target” in fire prone areas. I take this recommendation seriously and do not want it to simply sit on the proverbial shelf waiting to say “I told you so” when the next tragedy occurs.
Most don’t know that some areas of LA, like Downtown, already have a higher standard for building materials in case of fires. Labeled “Fire District 1,” this rule proved to be a good model for large, dense, areas no longer isolated to downtown. It was put in place many years ago before density had really been developed outside of downtown and Hollywood. There is no reason that dense areas in the Valley and around the City shouldn’t now be given the same level of protection as those areas — this is why I put forward a motion to expand Fire District 1 to other areas.
While this should be common sense, there are a number of myths and misconceptions regarding my plan to help save lives and property which I’d like to clear up.Read more
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.
From my outreach with Pastor Huck on Friday morning (2-26) discussing upcoming cleanups with unhoused residents near the Bridge Housing SECZ.Read more
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.
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
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.Read more
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.Read more