Three Critical Pieces of Legislation Pass to Help Address Homeless Crisis in West Valley

This week the City Council overwhelming passed three critical pieces of legislation I authored focused on the homelessness crisis in the West Valley. These efforts involved the following:

  • Bringing more mental health and drug treatment interventions to our local streets 
  • Creating new local innovative shared housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness 
  • Establishing limited, but sensible ‘no encampment’ locations along certain critical public right-of-ways

I want to share a bit more about each of these endeavors and what specifically they will do.

More Mental Health Care and Drug Treatment for Those in Need— The homelessness crisis is inextricably linked with drug and mental health issues. Not all unhoused people suffer from these afflictions, but every time I do outreach in our community I see the reality that the services simply aren’t as available or accessible as they should be. We can’t wait on the County mental health officials to connect folks with their services. This approach is leaving too many people suffering in the streets. That’s why I am dedicating City funds to support a pilot program to dispatch teams from the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center to specifically serve our district. The initial pilot will last one year and I’m excited to finally have dedicated teams from one of our region’s most reputable community organizations to be on the ground, specifically dispatched to help those on our West Valley streets. They will be providing real treatment for folks on the street and linking them up with appropriate services. 

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Update on Redistricting

Published in the Valley Vantage- October 7, 2021

Every ten years, the census reflects changes in local population and requires re-drawing of Congressional, supervisorial, state legislative and local city council districts. In 2020, my district had the highest census growth in the city so some change is coming. This year the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission (LACCRC) convened starting in April to engage the community and review how the city has changed, guided by the principles in the federal Voting Rights Act. They are tasked with determining how to re-draw district boundaries to ensure that every community has fair representation. After months of deliberation with public input, last week the LACCRC voted on a new draft map with some major changes that will impact the future of our city - including some very big implications in the Southwest San Fernando Valley. 

I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you the facts about what is happening, who is making these decisions, where they are in the process, and how you can get involved and make your voice heard.

Chaired by Fred Ali, president of the Weingart Foundation and appointed by Council President Nury Martinez, the 21 member Redistricting Commission includes diverse leaders in law, equity, and social justice including: Hon. Carlos R. Moreno retired California Supreme Court Justice; Elissa D. Barrett, Esq., Executive Director of the Western Justice Center; former LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; and Reverend Edward L. Anderson, Senior Pastor of McCarty Memorial Christian Church, among others. I appointed Richard Katz who served as a California State Assemblymember for the San Fernando Valley. Formerly a City Planning Commissioner and Chairman Emeritus of the Valley Economic Alliance, Katz has a deep direct understanding of the Valley and is an unapologetic advocate for our region.

Over the past few months various draft maps have been floating around online, but not until last week’s meeting did the LACCRC narrow down the maps under consideration to just one. If the new proposed map is formally adopted by the City Council, the current 3rd District, which I represent, would be split in two and join some neighboring communities. One district (labeled as 4 or 2) would serve Canoga Park, Reseda, Winnetka as well as Lake Balboa and most of Van Nuys. The other (labeled as 3) would include all the hillside communities from Woodland Hills through Tarzana, Encino and Sherman Oaks, and part of Valley Glen. Prior draft maps considered by the Commission included some that looked much more like the current district, including some that divided Woodland Hills in two. 

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Designating Locations for 41.18 Camping Limits

Published in the Valley Vantage- September 23, 2021

I’ve written often about my efforts to address the homelessness crisis in the West Valley by expanding services, creating transitional housing, and increasing affordable and permanent supportive housing. In my district, we’ve created hundreds of new beds and recently passed the mark where we have as many beds as unsheltered folks on the street according to the 2020 Homeless Count. Having these beds makes it easier to implement laws like the new 41.18 that allows for certain limits on where people can set up encampments.

This week, as I said I would do as soon as legally possible, I submitted a resolution to make the areas that are within 500 feet from freeway under and overpasses (Corbin and Bowlero), locations within 1000 feet from any of the new homelessness intervention sites (ie Cabin Communities), and around Winnetka Park, which has been dealing with a particularly challenging issues, off-limits to encampments. In all there are 26 specific locations that fall within the described parameters (see map). 

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A few more steps, including getting the full Council to adopt this resolution, need to be taken before these areas become off-limits. Intensive outreach over a two week period will need to be done to make sure that all encampment residents are offered services and shelter and are not caught off-guard by the change.

Two months ago, the City Council passed the new LAMC 41.18, which I co-authored, that enabled certain streets and sidewalks near sensitive use areas like new homeless housing, schools and daycares, as well as underpasses and locations where ADA access was limited, to be eligible to be declared ‘no encampment’ zones. It did not make all of these areas ‘off-limits’, rather it set a process where limited areas could be deemed, through individual Council resolutions, off-limits to encampments. Last week, the Council unanimously supported a new ‘street engagement strategy,’ with protocols for the outreach to homeless people living within encampments, connecting with housing and services. This was critical as the Council had agreed that no 41.18 resolutions would be considered until this strategy was adopted. 

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Housing, Services, and New Laws Needed to Solve Encampments at the Bowlero

Published in the Valley Vantage- June 17, 2021

The encampment outside the Woodland Hills Bowlero is the latest to escalate into an unacceptable mess. I share the frustration of many who call and email my office. I’ve watched fire videos, seen LAPD crime reports, and personally visited the occupant of every tent and RV at that location, near Target, and at Corbin. I wish I had a magic wand or ideal services available that people would voluntarily accept — but I don’t. So what are we doing?

For starters, while I believe everyone has a right to a roof over their head, I don’t believe that everyone has a right to encamp anywhere they want. For some activists, any restriction on encampments is “criminalizing homelessness.” I disagree. While I am working feverishly to create and incentivize temporary and permanent supportive housing for local people, a lack of ideal housing shouldn’t mean that encampments continue everywhere. 

Last fall I introduced a controversial motion to prohibit camping within 500 feet of freeways or homeless services, but before people could be asked to move, they had to be offered shelter. Specifically, it amended two sections of the LA Municipal Code, 41.18 which deals with sitting, lying or sleeping in the public right of way and 56.11 which focuses on personal belongings in the public right of way. Unfortunately, even though six Councilmembers co-signed or seconded my motion, there was tremendous opposition when the ordinance drafted by the City Attorney came to the Council for a vote, and the Council President sent it back to committee for further review. I’m working to get a revised proposal to Council for a vote.

We’re opening hundreds of temporary shelter and housing units within weeks. With our two cabin communities, the Willows Bridge Housing, hotels that we bought, and other housing opportunities, we have beds for over 60% of the unhoused people on our district’s streets. That’s in addition to hundreds of units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) that I’ve approved, now under construction or soon will be. While having beds for 60% of the district’s homeless population may satisfy Judge Carter’s threshold in a pending settlement agreement, my goal remains to find beds for 100% of the unhoused population in my district. We’re opening beds faster than ever, but how do we make sure the local unhoused folks accept them?

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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.