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Tue, Aug

Is the LA Homeless Settlement Really Going to Happen?

THE EASTSIDER - As the LA Times proudly announced on April Fools Day

Los Angeles has agreed to build potentially thousands of new beds and housing units under the terms of a legal settlement announced Friday, apparently bringing to an end a key portion of a contentious, long-running federal lawsuit over homeless housing and enforcement on skid row and across the city.

The proposed agreement between the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights and the city would require opening enough beds over the next five years to accommodate 60% of the city’s unsheltered population in each City Council district 

While it's a great idea, let's take a look at some major obstacles, from a look at the term sheet filed with the court. 

It’s a Five (5) Year Plan

Generally in LA City 5 year plans have not had a great track record, with things getting pushed back until the public can’t remember what the promise was.  This one is renewable ‘upon joint request’. 

Each Council District Still Gets to Enforce the Ordinance or Not

It’s based on their 15 fiefdoms Ordinance, also known as  “Section 41.18, Sitting, Lying or Sleeping or Storing, Using, Maintaining, or Placing Personal Property in the Public Right Away”.  You can find the document here. 

As we have already seen recently, this means that each of the 15 Councilmembers get to choose what gets enforced in their District, and that’s not a plan. Its a prescription for 15 different plans. 

In the  proposal filed with the court, while there are some prerequisites for continued enforcement at the street level, the City “reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to revise or amend its Street Engagement Strategy, LAMC 41.18, or any similar ordinance, regulation, or protocol consistent with applicable constitutional precedents”

Where Is LA County In All This

It appears that the County of Los Angeles has decided to litigate instead of signing on to the deal.  This is big, not only politically, but in terms of programs and  dollars. The County has the action in terms of the support services designed to get the homeless reintegrated back in to the community and no longer homeless. 

Also, remember, the County is the biggest slice of LAHSA’s budget, as I wrote here. 

Anyhow, LAHSA’s revised 2020-2021 Budget is a whopping $591 million. That’s over 1/2 a billion dollars for one year. Their main revenue sources are the Feds (5.6%), State of California (15.4%), County of Los Angeles (56.6%), and the City of Los Angeles (22.3%)”.  

It defies logic that having the biggest chunk of LAHSA’s funding refuse to participate in the agreement, doesn’t kill the reality of resolving the underlying homeless problems. Current levels are clearly not working, and by choosing litigate rather than deal cripples the deal. 

And we know that they’re going to the mat from the Times article: 

“In recent weeks, county lawyers, along with lawyers for other parties in the case, known as intervenors, expressed frustration with how the negotiations were going. The county asked that the case be assigned to another judge and for the talks between the parties and the judge that occurred outside of court to stop. Carter rejected their request for reassignment.

Skip Miller, a partner with the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for L.A. County in the case, said in a statement: “This lawsuit has no merit with regard to the county. It is between the plaintiffs and the city, and we’re glad they settled. We intend to litigate and win this case.”

The county is “doing everything possible to address homelessness without stigmatizing it as a crime,” Miller added. “Any assertion that the county has failed on this obligation is utterly baseless.” 

For me and CityWatch regulars, the hiring of Skip Miller tells it all.  As our very own Eric Preven is fond of pointing out, he’s a master of billing and litigating at his hourly rate instead of settling. 

Of course there may be a reason good old Skip doesn’t like Eric either. Preven wants to see the invoices from his firm: 

“We seek a judicial declaration that the City and County have violated and/or continues to violate constitutional, statutory, administrative and common law provisions requiring the agencies to provide the public with access to duly requested records such as a) Miller Barondess Invoices  b) metadata for County Board meetings as provided by City and Los Angeles County MTA  c) AT&T invoices billing for teleconferencing services for the City, the County & Los Angeles County MTA.” 

Come to think of it, I’d like to see them too :-) 

Anyhow, by declining to adhere to the  agreement, there are some two whole pages of obligations and agreements that LA County refuses to implement (Section 9, County Obligations”. The document then goes on to generally describe the County’s obligations as: 

“County Obligations

The parties agree to cooperate in ensuring County meets its obligations to provide services to persons experiencing homelessness within the City, and to fostering County-developed or County-funded housing and treatment services for PEH, including medium- and high-acuity need PEH suffering from illness, physical, mental or behavioral health issues, substance use disorder, and/or other factors used to determine acuity.” 

The Takeaway

The fate of the Settlement Agreement is obviously in jeopardy.  While implementation of LA City’s part is always slippery, at least they are participating. 

By litigating instead of negotiating, the County of Los Angeles has betrayed their promise to the taxpayers back in 2017 when they supported Measure H. As a reminder to Angelenos about the reality vs the promises of Measure H,  I leave you with the actual ballot measure and a link to the Ordinance. 

Read it and weep. 

For those who have forgotten the ballot initiative, here’s the summary and a link to the exact text: 

Ballot question

The following question appeared on the ballot:[1]

Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness.

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?[2]

Impartial analysis

The following impartial analysis of the measure was prepared by the office of Los Angeles County Counsel:[3]

Approval of Measure H (“Measure”) would authorize the County of Los Angeles (“County”) to impose a one-quarter percent (0.25%) special transactions and use tax on the gross receipts of any retailer from the sale of all personal property in the incorporated and unincorporated territory of the County (“Tax”). This Measure was placed on the ballot by resolution of the County Board of Supervisors (“Board”) and, if approved, will result in the enactment of Ordinance No. 2017-0001 (“Ordinance”).

Proceeds from the Tax will be used to generate ongoing funding to prevent and combat homelessness within Los Angeles County, including funding mental health, substance abuse treatment, health care, education, job training, rental and housing subsidies, case management and services, 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, consistent with the strategies developed through the Homeless Initiative adopted by the Board, and as otherwise directed by the Board to address the causes and effects of homelessness.

The Ordinance provides that the County shall contract with the California State Board of Equalization (“SBE”) to administer the Tax. The Ordinance requires the SBE contract ensure the combined local transactions and use tax rate limit (currently two (2) percent) is not exceeded in any city or district such that the Tax, when aggregated with all other transactions and use taxes within the city or district subject to the combined rate limit will (1) not cause the rate of all such taxes to exceed the combined rate limit, (2) not cause any person subject to the Tax to pay more than combined rate, and (3) have no impact on the revenue received by each city and district from transactions and use taxes previously imposed. The Tax will commence the latter of the first day of the first calendar quarter that is more than 110 days after approval of this Measure or the first day of the first calendar quarter after the execution of the SBE contract (“Commencement Date”). The Tax will expire ten (10) years after the Commencement Date.

If this Tax is approved by voters, the County Auditor-Controller shall have an independent auditor prepare and file a report with the Board by December 31 of each year the Tax is imposed. The report shall state: (1) the amount of Tax revenues collected and expended each year; and (2) the status of any project and description of services or programs funded from proceeds of the Tax.

If approved, the Measure creates a Citizens’ Oversight Advisory Board composed of five members appointed by the Board which shall review semi-annually all expenditures from the Tax, annually publish a complete accounting of all allocations each year, and submit periodic evaluations to the County.

The Tax proceeds shall be deposited into a special account, created and maintained by the County, and shall only be used for the specific purposes outlined in the Ordinance.

This Measure requires a two-thirds (2/3) vote for passage.[2]

Full text

The full text of the ordinance that approval of Measure H enacted is available here

Need I say more?

 

 (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.)