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To the LA City Council: Are the Homeless Just Bait for the 2022 Elections?

EASTSIDER-Chutzpah is a wonderful word with which to brand the LA City Council, particularly when it comes to their new Ordinance putting the homeless in their place.

I think it’s a fair characterization of the Council, and how they treat the homelessness pandemic in Los Angeles. 

Fortunately, we at CityWatch are gifted with two excellent planning and housing experts who separate the BS from the truth. In Dick Platkin’s article last week, he laid bare the City Council’s efforts to lie about their sellout to developers which has fueled the homeless crisis, calling it, “putting lipstick on a pig.” Good call, good read. Here’s a sample: 

“As explained in previous Planning Watch columns, City Hall’s approach to the housing crisis has been to double-down on the promotion of expensive apartments, even though they make the housing crisis worse. This blind spot is based on City Hall’s fallacious supply-side/trickle-down conviction that zoning deregulation miraculously reduces rents and increases racial equity. Despite a total lack of supportive data, LA’s officials, except for one exception, are fully committed to this transparent justification for gentrification, even though their own staff must dodge growing homeless encampments on their walk from Little Tokyo parking lots to City Hall offices.  

Furthermore, there is still no back-pedaling for City Planning’s updates of LA’s Housing Element and Community Plans, all justified by the cringe-worthy claim that these up-zoning ordinances demonstrate City Hall’s commitment to racial equity. This is why LA’s New Normal so closely resembles its Old Normal. Putting it more bluntly, when you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig.”  

Also last week, Patrick Range McDonald’s article had the tantalizing title of “What Is a YIMBY?(Hint, It’s Not Good),” regarding the richly funded disinformation campaign by developers, with the bucks going straight to “legislators” like Scott Weiner. 

He has seven key takeaways that really help to understand our housing mess and our craven politicians’ role in it. The article also offers a slew of links for those of us less familiar with the ins and outs of transforming what used to be relatively affordable housing into luxury high rise condos. Highly recommended. 

Input developer money and Planning changes. . .output increased displacement and homelessness. 

LA’s Recent Political History of Housing Bait and Switch 

At least as long back as CD 1’s Ed Reyes’ time (2001-2013) the PLUM Committee has been used to launder development money to mow under affordable and rent-controlled housing. And for history buffs, Ed was Mike Hernandez’s Chief of Staff before taking his place on the Council. Not a blade of grass got touched without Ed’s OK as the Chair of the PLUM Committee. 

Of course, that was also in the “good old days” of our CRA/LA. Before the ascension of Jose Huizar, whose actions should have been no surprise to us in Northeast LA.  

As I wrote back in 2018, all the signs were there from the beginning: 

“For those of us who reside in Northeast LA, the saga of God’s Gift to the Eastside is pretty straight forward. While advertised as a progressive Latino politician, he has been captive to the big-bucks developers and billionaire boys club charter school advocates since he got into our area’s politics way back in 2001.  

In the 2001 race, there was never much mention of all these supporters. However, as the Downtown News noted in a 2003 piece: 

“It's a shift for the man who began his career working on education policy for the California State Legislature and later became a land use attorney at the prominent Downtown law firm of Westin, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubelcava & MacCuish.”  

There are the clues, of course, rarely referred to. And Jose came through for his donors. Yes, sir, a $3.35 billion LAUSD Bond Measure in 2002, and the whopping $3.8 billion Bond Measure in 2004. As the Free Library noted in 2003: 

“The bond is believed to be the largest school construction bond in the nation and follows two other district bond measures. Voters approved the $2.4 billion Proposition BB in 1997 and the $3.35 billion Measure K in 2002. The three bonds, combined with state matching funds, exceed $10 billion.”  

And guess who was in charge of all the construction done under these measures? That’s right, Jose Huizar. Great networking for his campaign to move up and onward.  

And for those who would dispute his Jones for Charter Schools, guess who his Chief of Staff was? 

One Monica Garcia.   

That’s right, the incomparable incompetent often Board President of the LAUSD who is a total Charter School cheerleader. That Monica Garcia.” 

Then There Was Measure HHH and Measure H 

Speaking of bait and switch, instead of helping the rapidly mounting number of homeless the politicians themselves helped launch, we got another “trust us” from the City and County, who proudly set forth a huge bond measure in the City, and a 10-year sales tax for the County. 

For those with no institutional memory, Measure HHH was a $1.2 billion bond issue whereby you and I would agree to pay back the bond so that the LA City Council could “solve” the homeless crisis. In the County, a companion measure, Measure H, put forth a 1/4 cent sales tax increase which would provide support services to the homeless. As I wrote then: 

“Let’s go back to what we were told in the run up to passage of Proposition HHH. The advertised promise was for some 10,000 units of affordable permanent-supportive housing over 10 years, to the tune of $1.2 billion in bonds.  

What we’ve got is a new bureaucracy called HCID, run by a new general manager (Ray Cervantes), looking for staff and talking about $75 million in bonds to fund something like 440 units of supporting housing, with a total of 615 units. Maybe. And with no timeline.  

HCID, for the acronym challenged, stands for “Housing & Community Investment Department.” That very description should make us shudder, as we add another bureaucracy to the City that can’t balance a budget. On the other hand, they have a really spiffy website.   

This is a far cry from the promised 10,000 units of housing for the homeless and support services, and the Prevens indicate that the real number to date is around zero. If the City took a look at the pod/tiny houses mentioned at the beginning of this article, the process now would be very different. For about $30 million ($30,000 per unit) you could build 1000 units of homeless housing. And under the USC model, it could all be built here, providing jobs for local folks.  

Furthermore, at the moment the City is only looking at nine projects, using their tortured system, and there has been huge community pushback on many of their proposed sites. If you broadened the parameters and looked at all the 9000 parcels identified by Controller Galperin, I refuse to believe that the City couldn’t find places to put these mini-homes.” 

Well, the City Council showed that they could piss away $1.2 billion of taxpayer money with not much to make a dent in the homeless issue for thousands and thousands of Angelenos: 

“We don’t have time for 3-year and 5-year plans for $500,000 per unit permanent housing schemes. But there is enough money in the HHH $1.2 billion bond measure to repurpose a big chunk of that money for quick, temporary short-term solutions for the thousands of unfortunate people living on our streets.  

The language of Measure HHH itself allows for this. If you look at the Executive Summary of the Mayor’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy, it says:  

“In the short-term, the City must enhance its existing homeless shelter system and transform shelter beds into bridge housing by including homeless case management and integrating supportive health and social services from the County at appropriate levels of caseload via the CES.”   

Yeah, sure. How’d that work out for us? LA is a national laughingstock as our residents bail out for greener pastures. The (very cool) website WalletHub.com on July 1st just named the City of Los Angeles as the 135th worst City in America, on a scale of 1 equals the best to 150 equals the worst. Check it out; it’s an illuminating read.  

It’s in the interests of all Angelenos that our population has a relatively safe place to rest their heads at night, and a sanitary environment, be it shared housing, micro-units, repurposed vacant apartments or whatever. Not to mention provisions for storage and hygiene.” 

And as of 2019. the blog LAist posted a good summary of LA City Controller Ron Galperin’s Audit with the title, “Three Years and Zero Homeless Housing Units Later, LA's Auditor Looks At Prop HHH Money.” You can find their article here. 

Measure H 

Here’s the text of LA County’s 2017 Measure H

Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness. To fund mental health, substance abuse treatment, health care, education, job training, rental subsidies, emergency and affordable housing, transportation, outreach, prevention, and supportive services for homeless children, families, foster youth, veterans, battered women, seniors, disabled individuals, and other homeless adults; shall voters authorize Ordinance No. 2017-0001 to levy a ¼ cent sales tax for ten years, with independent annual audits and citizens’ oversight? 

This Measure required a 2/3 affirmative vote to pass and passed with a 69.34% vote in favor. While a bit beyond this article, as of the  December 2020 Audit, the County spent $215, 063,311 for fiscal year 2019-20 on Measure H. Remember, the County fiscal year is July 1-June 30. This is the money for supportive services to work in tandem with the City’s wonderful provision of shelter to the homeless. 

I haven’t seen any independent third-party analysis of this Measure, so if you know of one, please let me know. 

The Homeless Are Bait for the 2022 Elections

At the risk of being cynical, I think the Council just figured out there are elections in 2022, and they are not loved! As the City Clerk’s page confirms: 

“Offices up for Election in the 2022 Primary Nominating and General Municipal Elections include Mayor, City Controller, City Attorney, Council Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15, and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education Districts 2, 4, and 6. As a result of Charter Amendments 1 and 2 approved by the voters in 2015, the City's municipal elections will now be held in even-numbered years and consolidated with California State elections conducted by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. The City expects to hold its Primary Nominating Election on June 7, 2022, and the General Municipal Election on November 8, 2022.” 

And this doesn’t include potential recalls on incumbent Councilmembers Mike Bonin (CD 11) and Nithya Raman (CD 4). That’s a lot of politicians, and I hear there’s a petition out for our own Kevin de León. 

My goodness, the governed are evidently not enamored of LA City public officials. I think there is a direct link between election fears of the incumbents, and an LA Times report last week about whipping up anti-homeless sentiment. 

“Over the objections of activists, advocacy groups and two of their colleagues, Los Angeles City Council members on Thursday approved a new package of restrictions on encampments near homeless shelters, day-care centers and an array of other public facilities. 

With some arguing the measure would further criminalize homelessness and others saying the city took too long to act, council members voted 13 to 2 to enact rules regulating sitting, sleeping and storing property near fire hydrants, building entrances, driveways, libraries, parks, elementary schools and several other locations. 

Backers of the ordinance said it would restore access to public spaces in a way that is compassionate, treating most violations as infractions that can result in fines, not jail time, and limiting the involvement of law enforcement. They warned that their constituents would not continue to support new shelters and or other homeless facilities unless the city shows they have regained control of the sidewalks and other public spaces.” 

The Takeaway 

The Council usually relies on recycled developer graft from selling out the City all these years to get elected or re-elected. But this year that just might not be enough, and it may be a hard sell given the state of the City. 

The Councilmembers and wannabe Councilmembers sudden actions over criminalizing the homeless, in the name of “compassion” for god’s sake, tells it all. They all know one thing for sure: homeless people don’t vote, but homeowners do, and most homeowners have had it with homeless encampments, RVs on the streets, and the like. 

After all, some of the homeless have had the temerity to be unhoused at cool places like Echo Park Lake and Venice beach. Not just Skid Row or under freeway bridges. Doesn’t make the electeds look too good, since the Mayor and the City Council have essentially done bumpkis to make a dent in the homeless problem. 

Gee, the voters just might think that after the billions of dollars to supposedly ameliorate homelessness, the real problem may be the elected officials themselves, not those who got unhoused. 

Let’s see how this all plays out in 2022.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Photo: Spectrum News. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.