Thu, Jul

Opinion: Rancho Park Mothers Feel 'Betrayed' by Katy Yaroslavsky

WEST LA - When she was trying to earn our vote, Los Angeles City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky set up a table every weekend in the middle of Rancho Park. She greeted our dogs and gave snacks to our kids as they finished soccer and little league games. She looked us in the eye and promised to protect our families and neighborhood if we elected her as the first woman ever to hold that City Council seat. Based on that promise, mothers like us in Rancho Park overwhelmingly voted for Yaroslavsky.

Then, she betrayed us.

Over the last seven weeks, Katy Yaroslavsky has shamelessly lied to her constituents, has refused to meet with her constituents or respond to their calls, excluded them from and silenced them in public meetings, and bullied and belittled any constituents who disagree with her.

The lies began on July 24, 2023. In a press release and email blast, Yaroslavsky "unveiled plans for a new interim housing project" - a "low barrier" 30-unit homeless shelter requiring no criminal background checks - smack dab between residences, businesses, and schools in the Rancho Park neighborhood "on an ‘underutilized’ city-owned parking lot at the intersection of Pico Blvd. and Midvale Ave."

In response to immediate concerns from residents learning about the project for the first time, Yaroslavsky represented to constituents and the press that she had conducted outreach to the neighborhood before the proposal, that the project had earned support from neighborhood leaders (referencing a supportive quote from President of West LA Homeless Sean McMillan), and that "this is the beginning of the process, and we’re going to have plenty of opportunities for community input."

None of that was true. Yaroslavsky’s entire pre-announcement "outreach" consisted of two phone calls late Sunday evening, July 23, 2023, to alert two neighborhood leaders that the press release would be issued first thing in the morning. Mr. McMillan never authorized the use of his quote about the project, which resulted in the quote being quietly removed from Ms. Yaroslavsky’s website. And as we painfully learned, the project was from day one a "done deal" with the neighborhood being provided only two perfunctory "opportunities for community input" - where the public was not allowed to ask any questions whatsoever.

On August 3, 2023, the promised in-person “Information Session” on the project devolved into "chaos" after Yaroslavsky refused to take any questions from hundreds of residents who attended to share their "community input." Instead, faced with "boos and hisses" and shouts of "disgraceful" and "recall," Yaroslavsky quickly left the meeting, giving the cold shoulder to her constituents who gave up their evenings to ask questions and express their concerns about a project adjacent to their homes.

The second - and final - promised "opportunity" for "community input" took place later that week. It was a "virtual session" via Zoom in which Yaroslavsky provided scripted answers to questions that she pre-selected. Again, Yaroslavsky refused to take any questions from her constituents. Understandably, Yaroslavsky’s "scripted virtual session" was roundly criticized for “cherry picking” questions.

Since then, there have been no other public "opportunities for community input." Yaroslavsky did not appear at a much-publicized Westside Neighborhood Council meeting about the project and has repeatedly refused meeting requests from residents on Midvale Ave. and resident groups from the Rancho Park area.

Yaroslavsky’s contempt for her constituents even stirred the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) (which represents 14 neighborhood and community councils) to author a scathing and unprecedented letter. The letter complained that the project was "effectively announced as a decision that had already been made, without giving any prior notice to the community or to the relevant Neighborhood Council, and without giving the Neighborhood Council…any time, to consider, review and offer meaningful comment on the proposal before the determination."

Yaroslavsky’s constituents are understandably concerned about the proposed project. It is being operated by the same politically connected non-profit organization, LA Family Housing (LAFH), that was the subject of a recent exposé by Fox11 News. According to the Fox11 News report entitled "North Hollywood families say arrival of LA Family Housing brought violence, crime," several people have been stabbed and shot near the LAFH homeless facility in North Hollywood, where drug paraphernalia is widely present and "there’s always someone fighting, screaming, and yelling."

Beyond its negligent operation of its North Hollywood facility, LAFH’s involvement is also concerning for two other reasons. First, it appears from documents recently obtained by non-profit organization, Fix The City, that LAFH was the only non-profit organization considered for Yaroslavsky’s Pico/Midvale project.

A sole-source, single-bid multi-million-dollar 10-year contract raises serious red flags. But even more troubling is who helped procure this contract for LAFH. While the PRA documents provided by Yaroslavsky’s office did not include any bids, proposals, or contracts from LAFH, one name appears in virtually every meeting and on virtually every email regarding the Pico/Midvale project from its inception, Zachary Warma, "CD5’s Housing and Homelessness Policy Director."

As of October 2022, Warma was "the Associate Director of Policy for Los Angeles Family Housing." Of course, even the ethically challenged City of Los Angeles makes it an unlawful conflict of interest for City staffers to participate in steering business to their former employers: See Los Angeles Municipal Code § 49.5.6(B) ("In the first 12 months of City service, a City official or agency employee shall not knowingly make, participate in making, or attempt to use his or her official position to influence a City decision directly relating to a contract when a party to the contract is a person by whom the individual was employed in the 12 months immediately prior to entering City service.").

Yaroslavsky has refused to explain this clear conflict of interest or address the multiple complaints that have been filed with the City of LA’s Ethics Department about it. We are deeply disappointed that she is playing fast and loose with ethics laws.

But what is even more troubling is that she and her staff are relentlessly gaslighting anyone who disagrees with her. Despite the overwhelming neighborhood opposition to the Pico/Midvale Project - as reflected by numerous lawn signs in the area, regular protests, rallies, and letters to editors, and hundreds of emails, letters, and calls to her office - Yaroslavsky has dismissed the residents of Rancho Park with legitimate concerns, referring to them as a "few loud angry voices."

Facts also do not seem to matter to Yaroslavsky. This is especially true when it comes to the potential impact on the local businesses from the loss of the only available public parking nearby. Despite Yaroslavsky’s claim that a parking study was conducted, the study has not been provided to the public. Yaroslavsky’s website now claims that "Based on LADOT records, less than 40% of this lot is being used during a given day."

When the businessowners and residents who actually rely on that parking asked specific questions, it was revealed that the LADOT survey of the parking lot was conducted only "during City working hours" (as LADOT does not normally approve overtime hours for such work). This undermines the reliability of any such study, since the lot is busiest outside of those hours - especially during dinnertime. Thus, Rancho Park residents have been forced to incur the costs of an independent study to present true facts to Yaroslavsky.

Not surprisingly, on August 9, 2023, the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce issued a letter strongly opposing the project. It is also worth noting that the site originally became a city-owned parking lot in 1990 only after Yaroslavsky’s father-in-law acquired it through eminent domain for $2.2 million "to address parking problems on the north side of Pico."

To sell her project to the community, Yaroslavsky even published renderingsgiving the homeless shelter the appearance of a hip establishment with young, attractive residents sipping drinks, working on laptops, and engaging in conversations. Westside neighbors quickly chastised her for presenting images that looked like "Nobu" or "Soho House." Yaroslavsky cannot possibly believe that her constituents are that naïve. But, perhaps she does, after selling us her "bill of goods" all those times in the park when she promised to keep our families safe.

Transparency and integrity matter with projects like these because the lives of housed and unhoused individuals alike depend on Yaroslavsky’s promises to keep the neighborhood safe and to enforce anti-camping laws. Unfortunately, Yaroslavsky has a dangerous, well-publicized habit of flip-flopping on this important issue.

The LA Times recently observed that "[s]ix months ago, [Yaroslavsky] took a firm stand on the city’s law regulating homeless encampments, saying she would not support the creation of any new no-camping zones[.]" In fact, Yaroslavsky has repeatedly voted "to oppose the creation of no-camping zones in Westchester, Venice, North Hollywood and other locations" and "cast more ‘no’ votes over the following months, opposing anti-encampment zones in Woodland Hills, Granada Hills and Northridge." Yet, now, "Yaroslavsky is taking a somewhat different approach, promising residents in her Westside district that she will create a new no-camping area at Pico Boulevard and Midvale Avenue[.]"

Given her history of dismissing her constituents, ignoring ethics laws, and flip-flopping on public safety and homeless policies, we can no longer trust Yaroslavsky’s word. On Yaroslavsky’s official bio, there is a slogan that she parroted throughout her campaign: that "the biggest challenges our City is facing" can "only be solved by doing the hard work of building coalitions" and "initiating authentic, inclusive, and thorough community engagement."

Sadly, when it comes to the Pico/Midvale project, after all of her campaign promises, Yaroslavsky has abandoned us: the supportive women and mothers of Rancho Park. She has left us to fend for ourselves, for our families, for our neighborhood, and for the truth.

(Karna Ruskin and Natalie Meinhardt are residents and mothers of children in the neighborhood of Rancho Park, blocks from the proposed Pico/Midvale project. This article was first featured in westsidecurrent.com.)