Prevention Tips for Fire Season

Published with the Valley News Group May 20, 2021

Last week’s Pacific Palisades fire is a reminder that in the West Valley we need to be prepared for “Fire Season” all year round. I watched the Palisades fire very nervously over the weekend, and I am grateful to the professionals at LAFD who saved the neighborhood and surrounding structures from harm. There are a few things that I would like to highlight as we look ahead to a potentially deadly fire season once again. 

We all remember the Woolsey Fire, a few years ago. At that time, LAFD captains told me that if Topanga Canyon started to burn, Woodland Hills would be next and we would need to evacuate. There were fire trucks keeping an eye on Warner Center to keep the area safe during the Woolsey Fire, and we must remain vigilant and do everything we can to prevent fires.

First, everyone who lives in a high fire “Red Flag” restriction area needs to prepare to defend their home by clearing brush as required under city ordinances. If you are unable to clear your own brush, please call my office for options to help you get dangerous dry vegetation away from your home to provide a defensible space. 

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Update on West Valley Homeless Projects

Published with the Valley News Group on May 6, 2021

Everyday people ask what’s being done to address the homelessness emergency. The good news is new projects and interventions are coming in every corner of Los Angeles, yet it continues to be our most intense and glaring crisis. In the West Valley we have fewer unhoused people than every other community in the city but this humanitarian crisis continues on our streets and sidewalks.

Only a few years ago, we had practically no shelter options, few services and no plan to meet the need. Here’s an update on some of our progress and projects in the West Valley.

  • Cabin Communities: We’ve partnered with Hope of the Valley to create two new ‘tiny home’ villages in Reseda (set to open in a few weeks) and Tarzana. This swift and more affordable model will offer over 120 units to help those transitioning from the streets to more permanent housing. Each has a bed, a locking door, A/C, heat, and electric outlets. There will be shared restrooms, laundry facilities, 24/7 security, meals, and onsite case management. 

 

  • More Permanent and Affordable Housing: Although I have approved every single unit of permanent supportive housing proposed in my district, more is desperately needed. In addition to the almost 100 existing units in Winnetka Village, the Reseda Theater senior housing and Bell Creek development in Canoga Park are now underway, and combined with the pending Palm Vista project, altogether we’ll have nearly 200 more units.

 

  • Safe Parking: People who are living in their vehicles receive a space with restrooms, security and services, including behind my district office where safe parking has been operating for almost two years without problems. It’s the least we can do for people living in cars who may not qualify for other programs. We recently expanded safe parking to a city-owned lot in Canoga Park and are exploring other potential sites.

 

  • Hotels/Motels: Project Homekey buys or leases hotels/motels and converts them into permanent supportive housing. Project Roomkey is a temporary leased hotel program for people at risk. In 2020 two sites added over 100 rooms for unhoused folks in our community, and we are continuing discussions with several others.

 

  • Bridge Home/The Willows: Earlier this year we opened our Bridge Housing site in Canoga Park which has welcomed dozens of local unhoused people into transitional housing. Due to the COVID-19, it has reduced capacity but soon we’ll be able to double the occupancy. 
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New City Budget Unveiled: Delivering for the West Valley

Published with the Valley News Group on April 22, 2021

This week, Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled his draft budget for the next year and I wanted to share what it proposes for our city, and more specifically the West Valley. A budget is a statement of priorities and from expanding public works projects, bridging the digital divide, empowering local businesses and allocating unprecedented resources to address homelessness, this annual budget lays out a bold agenda.

With the help of President Joe Biden and the American Rescue Plan (ARP), much of the fiscal pain our city government has gone through over the past year has been alleviated, but we are not out of the woods yet. Soon the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, in which I serve as Vice Chair, will begin deliberations with every department head as well as the Mayor’s top finance staff. I’ll go over every line item with a fine tooth comb, but before that process begins, here are some of the highlights of Mayor Garcetti’s proposal.

The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a steep decline in City revenues, which forced the City to make deep cuts in basic services such as street paving, street sweeping and upkeep of trees. Much of the ARP funding is budgeted for restoring City services to pre-pandemic levels.

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Preparing for Climate Change with Fire Resistant Buildings

Published in with the Valley News Group on March 13, 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. 

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Update on Homeless Housing and New Storage Issues

Published with the Valley News Group on February 18, 2021

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.  

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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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