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City Controller Mejia Investigating Mayor’s “Inside Safe” Homeless Housing Program

LA POLITICS

DEEGAN ON LA—The politicos have made such a mess of homeless housing that a Federal Judge has stepped into the morass and ordered that records and receipts for Inside Safe—the Mayor’s signature homeless housing program—be revealed to the public so taxpayers can get a transparent understanding of where their money administered by the politicos, and earmarked for homeless housing, went wrong. 

The day she was sworn into office as Mayor, Karen Bass signed an Executive Directive launching Inside SafeShe called it a plan to dramatically accelerate and lower the cost of affordable and temporary housing…an urgent and strategic approach to addressing the homelessness crisis that would be Los Angelescitywide proactive housing-led strategy to bring people inside from tents and encampments for good, and to prevent encampments from returning.”

A few days ago, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter posed this question about Inside Safe to the Mayor, whom he had called into his courtroom for a Q&A on the topic of homeless housing in Los Angeles: "Which provider is producing results out there? We have no benchmark, and we have no accountability at this point. Its just as simple as that." 

Cue the Controller, Kenneth Mejia wants to help us understand what has so far stymied the mayor—where did all that money go, and why aren’t more homeless housed?

 

After the judge intervened, Mejia announced a focused audit” of Inside Safe, which has been funded by a quarter-billion-dollar allocation in the current city budget. It’s where Bass has banked all her hopes for housing the homeless. 

Mejia swept into office on the 2022 Progressive Wave that also elected Eunisses Hernandez (CD-1) and Hugo Hugo Soto-Martínez (CD-13). His winning vote total—over a half-million— was huge: more votes cast than for any other citywide candidate in that election. More than even for the mayor, earning him a spot as the highest vote getter. A considerable achievement for a political unknown, and testimony to the power of progressives to get out the vote. 

[Final results from the City Clerk show that Mejia received 513, 288 votes for City Controller, Karen Bass received 509,944 for Mayor, and Hydee Feldstein Soto received 442,926 for for City Attorney]. 

Mejia took control of the city’s accounting department, not often seen as a hot spot in city politics, but one that is not lubricated by promises but by ledger entries and facts. 

Now, the freshman Controller has a chance to flex his progressive muscles as he promised to do in his campaign for office. He has a chance to flood some sunshine into the dark corners of the politico-developer alliance that has pretty much controlled and corrupted City Hall. 

Controller Mejia and Mayor Bass come at Inside Safe from different angles. For the City Controller its a simple and proactive case of “show me the money”. Sorting all of the invoices and receipts, disbursements and other ledger entries from an accountant’s orderly perspective, where debits and credits balance out, and making a report of his findings.

For the Mayor, she’s clearly coming at this problem from a defensive angle. Her debits and credits are the campaign trail promises she made for housing the homeless to get elected, and the level of her delivery on those promises once she was elected and took stewardship of the homeless housing problem. 

Inside Safe is not the success that Bass promised, and Mejia may be able to empirically tell us why. 

Homeless housing is a tar baby of the worst sort for politicos. There’s no easy answer, and claiming you have the answer has defeated many politicos. The Mejia report will hopefully give an orderly presentation of the facts, not the promises. 

Bass will now have a chance to scrap Inside Safe and reinvent her homeless housing agenda if Mejia’s report shows the impossibility of meeting her present targets. The good that may come from Mejia is a reboot of how the homeless housing matter is addressed. 

Mejia’s announced audit could become one of many looks into Inside Safe as the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights continues to apply litigious pressure on the city for answers, though appeals to Judge Carter, and politicos sharpen their finger-pointing against one another in attempts to control the narrative. 

It’s a wonder that it took the intervention of a federal judge before the politicos were willing to open the books to the public.

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)