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Federal Judge David Carter, Nemesis of City Hall’s Skid Row Homeless Programs

PLANNING WATCH LA

PLANNING WATCH -  Federal Judge David Carter, shown in the above photo, has an undeniable commitment to alleviate homelessness in LA’s historic Skid Row area.  His authority comes from a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles initiated by local property owners -- since the large number of homeless people in Skid Row obstruct their plans to replace existing structures with new, lucrative apartments.  Judge Carter appears to be totally sincere in using the full power of the law to force LA’s City Hall to provide shelter to Skid Row’s homeless population. 

His power comes from a March, 2020 lawsuit initiated by local property owners through their LA Alliance for Human Rights, to force LA’s City Hall to provide shelter for Skid Row’s homeless population.  Judge Carter recently ordered an audit of City Hall’s unsuccessful efforts to provide shelter beds and clear homeless encampments from LA’s  Skid Row area.  The property owners alliance is also requesting $6.4 million in monetary sanctions from LA’s City Hall for failing to comply with the 2021 settlement. 

To move the settlement forward, Judge Carter ordered an audit of the City’s Skid Row homeless program.   In response the City’s Administrative Officer (CAO), Matt Szabo, maintained that LA’s City Controller , whose office prepares audits of City programs, does not have City Charter authority to conduct the audit.  Instead the CAO would submit a list of independent auditors to Judge Carter, and then let him select one. 

LA’s City Controller, Kenneth Meiji, countered that his office does, in fact, have the authority to conduct Judge Carter’s audit.  This audit would determine which homeless non-profits contracted by LA’s City Hall - -from the $250 million allocated to the Mayor’s major homeless program, Inside Safe – have been effective.  Of particular concern is the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), which receives most of the funding.  According to Councilmember Bob Blumenfeld LAHSA is, “at times, and frankly, downright deceptive in terms of how they secure funding from this city.”

 

Regardless of who eventually audits the City of LA’s homeless programs and its contracted homeless services providers, there are many serious questions that so far remain unasked and unanswered.  When the audit(s) are completed, we still need to know : 

  • Is LA rising homelessness –shown in the chart above -- caused by LAHSA’s alleged opaqueness and deceptiveness?   No.  This agency’s failures are not the cause of LA’s homeless crisis.  At best, LAHSA determines how much homelessness is visible, especially in downtown Los Angeles, where about 5,000 of LA’s 41,000 homeless reside. 
  • Is homelessness caused by Mayor Karen Bass’s and other City Hall officials lack of transparency?   No.  Even if the homeless programs that Mayor Bass champions were totally transparent, the likely difference would be the amount of homelessness that is visible. 
  • Is the City’s alleged squandering of money for homeless programs the cause of homelessness?   No.  Homelessness is not caused by poorly implemented municipal housing programs, even when they encourage private property owners and City officials to bar homeless people from sleeping in specific areas through LA’s anti-camping ordinance

While these various shortcomings can be reversed by the recent orders of Judge David Carter, none will result in the elimination of homeless from Los Angeles because they do not address the causes of homelessness, most which are statewide and nationwide, not local: 

  • Evictions
  • Growing income inequality.
  • Termination of HUD and local CRA public housing programs.
  • City Hall’s adoption of discretionary zoning waivers that allow the construction of new, expensive apartment buildings.  These waivers raise property values and price people out of housing.
  • California laws that allow increased density on single family lots through Accessory Dwelling Units, lot splits, and duplexes. 

As well-meaning as Judge David Carter is, until these primary causes of the housing crisis are addressed, homelessness will get worse.  This is not a mystery.  It is painfully obvious to those who see beyond City Hall’s self-serving ignorance.

 

(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA.  He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA).  Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives.  Please send questions to [email protected].)