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.
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.Read more
Today I co-authored a measure directing city agencies to report on establishing a community-based public safety program to respond to calls on noncriminal matters involving mental health and homelessness.
Everyday LAPD officers respond to non-criminal calls because we simply don't have any other mechanism to immediately address these needs. It’s unfair to ask officers to do the job of a social or public health worker and it’s wrong to perpetuate the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness. The time is now to rethink how we use our resources to meet these needs and get healthy outcomes.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has made significant investments in training officers so they are able to perform community-oriented duties that may fall outside the parameters of traditional policing, such as responding to calls involving drug overdoses or mental health crises. These are calls for which an armed, uniformed response may not be most effective. Responding to these calls takes officers away from regular patrol duties and impacts their ability to respond to other calls for service. Such calls might be better managed by civilian responders who are specially trained in handling noncriminal issues.Read more
Our West Valley non-profits are on the front lines in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. While they may not be providing direct medical services, they are providing food, supplies and other essential support for people who are being impacted by the virus medically and financially. Many of these non-profits are experiencing a spike in community need at the very same time they are losing resources. Food Pantries have long lines and more clients than ever, while at the same time, many of their regular donors are not giving because either their businesses are closed, or they no longer have overstock groceries to give. Also, many of their regular volunteers are staying home because they are in a high-risk category because of age or underlying condition.
I’m writing to solicit your help. Please join me in donating funds to these important West Valley non-profits. I have re-organized my district office discretionary budget to free up more than $100,000 and I have donated all of this money to the below listed West Valley non-profit organizations. These are all groups with whom I’ve worked with throughout the years and know first-hand about their extraordinary work. Each group filled out a simple donation application form where they described their need and how they would spend emergency funds. Please consider making a donation to any or all of these organizations.
For your convenience, I have hyperlinked each organization’s website below so that you can see for yourself what they need and read about their mission. It would mean a lot to our community and to me if you are able to help by donating. Also, please send me an email about your donation, so that I can thank you properly, and I can keep track of the totals.
- Boys And Girls Club Of the West Valley
- Child Development Institute
- Family Rescue Center
- Guadalupe Center
- Haven Hills
- Homes for Families
- Little Angels Project
- Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging
- New Directions for Youth
- Parents. Educators/Teachers & Students In Action
- Sisters On The Streets
- The LA Federation
- The Valley Economic Alliance
- Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind
- Valley Women’s Center
- West Valley Counseling Center
- West Valley Food Pantry
- West Valley Warner Center Chamber of Commerce
- West Valley YMCA
Also, please be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get time-sensitive local updates. My team and I are doing a lot of creative things to help fight against this pandemic and help provide relief for residents. And, if you or someone you know needs help, please contact my office at (818)774-4330 so that we can connect you with that assistance or the person or organization that can help.
These are trying times but we will get through them. Thank you for considering this appeal. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Take care.
The COVID-19 emergency has disrupted events, schools, businesses, families, and city services, it has also had an impact on homelessness. In an effort to prevent many more people from falling into homelessness, emergency critical policy changes such as an eviction moratorium, a two week paid sick leave mandate and immediate financial aid programs have been enacted. And, in an effort to help prevent the virus from ravaging the homeless population and endangering nearby communities, the City and State are attempting to reduce the density of existing homeless encampments and offer refuge for homeless people by opening up emergency shelters in hotels, motels and at certain Recreation centers. While thousands of homeless people have accepted this emergency shelter, many of the encampments in the 101 underpasses and throughout the City are looking worse than they have previously. While COVID-19 is part of the reason that tents are staying up and more visible, there are several additional factors that are important to understand.
Recently I hosted a COVID-19 telephone town hall with medical and small business experts to explore facts and resources and offer our community an opportunity to ask questions on these topics. Out of the more than 100 questions which were asked but not covered during the limited time of the call, about a dozen were on homeless-related topics. Consequently, I am attempting to answer these questions in this written format.
In short, no one should have to live on a sidewalk under a freeway, it is not a humane way to live. And, no one should have to feel afraid to go for a walk in their own neighborhood or have their sidewalks blocked by tents, clutter and debris. If the City could move everyone into a shelter or into supportive housing today we would do so. If the City could force drug addicts into drug treatment programs or force very mentally ill people into treatment, it would. The Courts have told us that once there are enough housing or shelter beds available for most of the homeless in the City than we can then enforce the anti-camping laws that are on the books that currently they do not allow us to enforce. And, the County Public Health Department which is the lead during the Pandemic (the City doesn’t itself have a health department or health programs) has determined that it is safer for everyone not to force people to take down their tens during the daytime, but to leave them where they are as the moving them around during this pandemic risks a faster spread of the virus.
Hot spot encampments like the 101 underpasses persist even though we go out with LAHSA to meet with homeless people to offer services and shelter. Sanitation comes for trash pickup but has a very limited ability to remove bulky items. A very recent Court case (Garcia) made it extremely impractical to remove couches, mattresses and other bulky items from encampments which used to be removed routinely. Although we work with LAHSA and law enforcement to try to get people off the streets and enforce ADA compliance (3 feet passibility on sidewalks), there are still too many unsheltered people on the streets throughout the City and in my district.
Why are some Rec Centers being used as homeless shelters and will they return to normal after the crisis?
In March the Mayor ordered that Recreation centers throughout the city be converted into temporary homeless shelters because the city needed facilities to give unsheltered people sanitary conditions to live through the COVID-19 emergency. It is extremely difficult to shelter in place, if you have no place. His selections were based on ADA accessibility and facilities with hot showers. The Woodland Hills Rec Center is the only one in my district and it is hosting 35 people in the gym and ten more in FEMA trailers in the parking lot. The trailers are being used for seniors (age 65+) and people with underlying health issues who are not infected by the Virus. After the pandemic, the Rec Centers will transition back to being Rec Centers. They need to be Recreation Centers because of the important role they play in our community and because the City Charter requires it.Read more
An abridged version of this article appeared in the LA Daily News on April 19, 2020
Exploring a solution for homelessness has been vexing, heartbreaking and frustrating. As a City we have allocated more than $1 billion, yet more people are on the street despite the progress we’ve made toward new temporary and permanent housing. The COVID-19 crisis has created a new health urgency to get people off the street and into temporary beds at Recreation Centers including Woodland Hills and local hotel/motel rooms.
Homeless people were already dying on the streets at an alarming rate, but the Pandemic could exponentially increase those numbers in ways that would shock the conscious of even the most callous among us. Furthermore, the pandemic has made it painfully clear that the horrid conditions people without shelter live in do not just impact the greater community’s mental health/conscious, but can literally impact its physical health as well.
When the pandemic is over, we will be at a homelessness crossroads and have to decide whether to return people back to the streets or find the fortitude and funding to keep them sheltered — even if those shelters are less than ideal.
In the past basic shelters such as safe parking, tiny houses, hotel/motel repurposing, and sanctioned encampments as we’re seeing at the Westside VA have been opposed both by homeless advocates who viewed it as an abandonment of the higher, more noble vision of permanent housing and by community activists who believed that such housing would degrade their neighborhood and would be a magnet for more homelessness.
I did not imagine that it would be possible to unite these two opponents around the common purpose of providing more shelters until a few days ago when I met with Judge David O. Carter of the US Central District Court in California who is presiding over a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for failing to protect public health and safety and to provide homeless shelters. Honestly I was very apprehensive about meeting the Judge that blocked Orange County’s effort to clear homeless camps along the Santa Ana River trail, but who ultimately helped put together a settlement which forced more shelters to be opened. Since Judge Carter was coming to my district to see firsthand the unique aspects of homelessness we face in the city’s West Valley, I wanted to show him.
I candidly shared my concerns about the restrictions, impractical mandates and contradictory rulings that his Federal Courts have foisted upon the City when it comes to addressing homelessness. This included the recent ruling (Garcia) that makes it extremely difficult to remove bulky items, the ‘Boise’ decision that neutered anti-camping laws, the Jones settlement that dealt with sleeping on the sidewalks, etc. All of these decisions partly explains why encampment hot spots appear to be growing, creating greater health and safety issues despite the fact that more people have been provided shelter over the past several weeks than ever before.
I let him know how I get many complaints from legitimately frustrated local residents about our encampments, and about the anger many of them justifiably express. We talked about how frustrated the police get with the rules and how crazy it is that someone can literally be killing themselves with drugs or be severely mentally ill but not be ‘gravely disabled’ enough under State law to be forced into treatment or safe shelter.
Yesterday, we held a historic emergency Los Angeles City Council session to tackle many critical COVID-19 related issues right now. We passed measures that will:
- Protect renters by prohibiting COVID-19 related evictions, be they financial, health or other;
- Require paid sick leave for workers left out by new federal mandates; and
- Add new sanitary protections for workers and require grocery stores to set senior-only shopping time.
We also took a big step to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 financial catastrophe. And, we did it all remotely during the first virtual LA City Council meeting using video conferencing and telephone call-in for public comments.
During the eleven-hour meeting, we heard voices from all around the City, folks who recently lost their jobs worried about making rent, ‘Mom and Pop’ landlords concerned about mortgage payments and their nest egg, small business people persevering to open doors and keep workers employed, and many other struggling Angelenos. Some were angry, others grateful, many had helpful ideas, most were concerned and just wanted solutions. We listened, debated issues, amended proposals, and we voted on legislation.
We passed an eviction prohibition during the pandemic that is one of the strongest in the country and goes well beyond Governor Newsom’s. Even so, some wanted it to go further to prohibit all evictions, even those necessitated by criminal activity, destruction of property, etc. That amendment did not pass, but because of language that Councilmember Koretz introduced and I seconded, we were able to strengthen tenant rights during this emergency by ensuring that you can’t be evicted for:
- Having too many people in your rental (providing elderly relatives refuge, etc.);
- Excessive noise that naturally happens when kids are home all day; and
- Other understandable COVID-19 related situations when families are practicing quarantine and self-isolation.
Because civil court closures prevent evictions right now, the moratorium will be most helpful when the emergency is over. Its protection gives nervous renters some peace of mind. Included in the eviction moratorium ordinance is an important provision that allows renters to pay back missed rent that occurred during the COVID-19 emergency time frame, over 12-months after the emergency declaration ends with no interest charged or late fees levied on back rent payments. Landlords will be given some mortgage payment delay/flexibility by the Federal and State governments that will help them manage these delays in rental income.Read more