LA Times 5/13/14: “Council OKs $3.7 million for skid row cleanup, ‘valet cart storage'”

Full article HERE.

“Council OKs $3.7 million for skid row cleanup, ‘valet cart storage'”
Written by Gale Holland

The Los Angeles City Council authorized a $3.7-million skid row cleanup plan Tuesday that will expand 24-hour bathroom access and expand storage to comply with a court injunction against destroying personal property homeless people keep in the streets.

Along with a stepped-up street cleaning schedule, the city will open a “valet cart storage” lot where homeless people can check their shopping baskets in for the day. A 90-day storage facility for homeless people east of Alameda Street will move into the heart of skid row, bathroom hours at three skid row shelters will be expanded and trash bins and pickups will be augmented.

An additional $5 million in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed budget is set aside to duplicate the efforts in other parts of the city with homeless camps, potentially including Venice and South Los Angeles, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said.

The cleanup plan came in response to public health violations that emerged during the city’s long and unsuccessful legal battle against a court order preventing seizure of homeless people’s possessions. County health inspectors found the city had allowed human feces, rat infestations, syringes and other garbage to collect in the streets for two years running.

The city argued that eliminating squalor on skid row was impossible around the tents, blankets and other effects homeless people set up as part of sidewalk encampments. City Atty. Mike Feuer last month dropped the city’s latest appeal of the order, but the underlying lawsuit has not been settled.

At the council meeting, skid row activists complained that too much of the cleanup money would go to city salaries and social service organizations. The Midnight Mission, the Los Angeles Mission and Lamp Community will be paid to increase public bathroom hours, while the Central City East Assn., the local business group, will run the valet cart storage lot, Santana said.

Steve Diaz, a member of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said each new trash can would cost $16,800.

“What other parts of the city have trash cans that cost this much?” Diaz asked the council.

Santana was unable to immediately confirm the figure, but told the council most of the expense was labor costs. Skid row trash must be picked up manually because automated garbage cans in the past have been vandalized, he said.

General Dogon, an L.A. Community Action Network organizer, said the city’s negligence had forced skid row residents to spend their general relief checks on supplies to clean the streets themselves.

“There is a dirty divide between the haves and have-nots in downtown,” Dogon said. “West of Main Street … there are pocket parks and dog water fountains. East of Main Street we ain’t got nothing.”

Central City East Assn. Executive Director Raquel K. Beard endorsed the plan, saying, “We desperately need to get people off the sidewalks.”

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the roughly 50-block skid row area, said the $3.7 million, which is for fiscal year 2014-15, doubles city spending on skid row cleanups this year but remains “just another drop in the bucket.”

“It is a disgrace on skid row and we have not done a good job,” said Huizar, who called for more federal funding and better coordination with the county to produce more permanent housing for the homeless.

Santana, in his report on the cleanup proposal, said 3,500 homeless people live on skid row, including an estimated 1,000 who sleep on the sidewalks. An estimated 58,000 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, a total second only to that of New York City.

LA Times 1/12/15: “L.A. Council committee moves to ban disposal of bulky items in parks”

Full article HERE.

“L.A. Council committee moves to ban disposal of bulky items in parks”
Written by Catherine Saillant

Disturbed by a proliferation of mattresses and sofas appearing on park property, a Los Angeles City Council committee Monday asked city lawyers to draft language outlawing the practice.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, asked for legislation after learning that leaving bulky items in the city’s 459 recreational spaces is not explicitly banned.

Bonin said he and his husband recently rushed to douse and remove a burning mattress on the Venice boardwalk. It’s not unusual to see trash-strewn couches and armchairs left in beach parks, he said.

“Bulky items cause damage to park property as well as contribute to visual blight and clutter while the park is open,” Bonin wrote in his motion asking for action.

Members of the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee agreed Monday to draft an ordinance that calls for posting signs at parks informing the public that dumping property is illegal. But compliance would be voluntary — no fines would be levied for violating the ban, officials said.

The draft language also would authorize Recreation and Parks Department workers to remove and dispose of large items. Proposed legislation would have to win the support of the full council before it becomes law.

Michael Shull, the city’s recreation and parks chief, said cleaning up personal property creates extra maintenance burdens and costs for his department.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” Shull told the committee.

The proposed law would specify that personal property such as luggage and papers left by homeless people would not be confiscated but collected and stored for 90 days.

That provision is necessary to comply with legal decisions that prohibit the city from throwing away personal items left on public sidewalks by the homeless.

General Dogon, a representative of the skid row-based Los Angeles Community Action Network, said homeless advocates would be watching closely to make sure the city doesn’t violate their rights.

“The city in a lot of cases has been sued before,” Dogon said. “I just want to make sure that’s not the case here.”

LA Times 1/9/15: “Activists fear that big-project zoning change would ignore L.A.’s poor”

Full article HERE.

“Activists fear that big-project zoning change would ignore L.A.’s poor”
Written by Emily Alpert Reyes

Newly proposed rules meant to smooth the way for vetting big developments in Los Angeles are stirring up alarm among community groups that say the plan doesn’t do enough to protect poor households or small businesses from being displaced.

Planning officials say the rules would simplify — but not shorten — the review process for large, complicated projects, allowing planners to focus on the merits of a development instead of “the minutiae of navigating through obscure code provisions,” according to a planning department report.

This is way too complicated to throw into that huge pot. We need this today.
– senior city planner Tom Rothmann
The change would create a new, alternative and customizable zoning classification that developers could apply for when building big, “campus-like” projects that don’t fit easily within existing zones.

Instead of having to ask permission to make a long list of adjustments from codes written for simpler developments, developers would make an overarching case for their projects, listing their desired building heights, floor areas and other details and how and why they would differ from current regulations.

Planning officials said that under the alternative process, big developments would still need to be vetted by the city planning commission and approved by the City Council and would also have to submit an environmental impact report, in addition to several other plans not required if the same projects went through the ordinary process.

The alternative zone would be available only to complex projects with three or more buildings that would sit on at least five acres. Ten upcoming projects are believed to be eligible, according to a staff analysis. The planning commission voted 5 to 2 Thursday in favor of the ordinance, which still must be approved by the council.

Officials with Los Angeles World Airports, which includes LAX, Ontario and other local airports, cheered the plan, saying in a letter that the “current archaic and cumbersome zoning code can sometimes serve as an inhibitor to progress” on airport projects. The Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. also voiced its support Thursday, saying L.A. has lacked consistent ways to assess big projects.

But other groups have pushed against the idea, arguing that the existing plan does too little to protect affordable housing and ensure that communities benefit from big developments.

“The city is creating this entirely new, special program for large developments and promising that it will provide public benefit,” said Doug Smith of Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm focused on economic-justice issues. “But as it stands, the ordinance doesn’t have all the tools to make sure that occurs.”

Nearly two dozen community groups and nonprofits, including Public Counsel and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, penned a December letter arguing that the rules should require all such projects to submit plans to minimize or prevent the displacement of poor residents and small businesses and sign development agreements that could spell out community benefits.

They also contend that the new rules would do too little to promote affordable housing. In some cases, they argue, the zoning change could end up discouraging some big projects from seeking a bonus that allows extra density in exchange for more affordable housing, by allowing high density for big projects converted from industrial to residential use.

The proposed new zone “is nothing but an accelerated gentrification ordinance,” Thelmy Perez, coordinator of the L.A. Human Right to Housing Collective, argued before the commission Thursday.

In light of those concerns, Commissioner Maria Cabildo asked Thursday if the proposal could restrict density more tightly in order to nudge big developments toward the affordable-housing bonus. Raising similar worries, Commissioner Marta Segura questioned whether the city could also require a study of how major developments would affect neighborhood stability.

Planning officials rejected those ideas, arguing that adding more requirements would discourage developers from pursuing the alternative process at all. Cabildo and Segura were the only commissioners to vote against the zone Thursday.

Critics also questioned why the city is pressing to adopt the plan before it finishes reexamining all of its zoning rules — a sweeping project known as Recode LA. In response, deputy planning director Alan Bell said that those broader changes are still at least five years away.

“This is way too complicated to throw into that huge pot,” said senior city planner Tom Rothmann. “We need this today.”

LA Times 9/30/14: “Skid row groups are divided over future of homeless district”

Full article HERE.

“Skid row groups are divided over future of homeless district”
Written by Gale Holland

A deep divide over the future of skid row and of the thousands of homeless people living in the 50-block district’s streets and shelters emerged during a community forum in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night.

The near-capacity crowd in the Los Angeles Theatre Center’s 470-seat auditorium split nearly evenly on key issues in instant electronic polls conducted during the meeting, including a proposal by City Councilman Jose Huizar, who convened the meeting, to appoint a homeless czar. The audience was also divided on whether skid row needs more homeless housing, more mixed-income housing or no more housing at all.

Midway through the two-hour forum, members of Los Angeles Community Action Network staged an angry walkout, protesting what they said was the exclusion of skid row residents from the panel of 15 people, mainly city and county officials, that Huizar assembled to testify about the 50-block downtown neighborhood.

“You messed up enough people already,” said General Dogon, an organizer for the poverty group, flinging onto the stage the electronic clicker that audience members used to vote.

“We are the experts” and “Vote of no confidence” read signs the group’s members raised in silent protest before the walkout.

Mental health, sanitation, police, health services and housing officials told the crowd they were working to maximum capacity on the community’s homeless problems.

Los Angeles Police Lt. Lionel Garcia said the department’s mental health response teams handle 13,000 crisis calls a year and don’t have the resources for outreach on skid row. City street services enforcement chief Gary Harris said dumping by local businesses exacerbates the trash can shortage and sanitation problems on skid row.

Most speakers agreed that skid row is not working. With the downtown’s glitzy revival encroaching on its boundaries, the neighborhood is changing, downtown developer Tom Gilmore said.

“There will be development of skid row,” said Gilmore, who predicted that mixed-income and market rate housing will grow without displacing shelters and other homeless services.

Housing chief Rushmore D. Cervantes said the city expects to finish building 1,250 homeless units next year, but added, “You walk down the streets and it doesn’t appear to have made things better. It appears things are even worse.”

Marc Trotz, who heads the Los Angeles County Health Services’ Housing for Health program, added a bright note, saying that his office hopes to create 10,000 housing units with services for homeless people with complex medical and behavioral issues.

“We have to open up to a really large mobilization,” Trotz said. “When you have earthquakes or floods you don’t wander around with a ragtag bunch of folks and two backpacks.”

Several longtime leaders boycotted the meeting, including Alice Callaghan, who runs Las Familias Del Pueblo, a skid row school and day-care center for children of immigrant workers. Callaghan lambasted the “Plan for Hope” Huizar used as a blueprint for the discussion, in part because its authors were described as “anonymous stakeholders.”

Callaghan said the report was riddled with illegal or outlandish ideas and factual errors, including a call to protect 6,000 existing low-income units on skid row. “6,000 is a number from 1985; we’ve already lost half of them,” she said.

Kevin Michael Key, who heads a skid row drug and alcohol prevention program, said he was offended by a video Huizar played to start the meeting that showed homeless people defecating and masturbating in the street.

“Every day I see people on the worst of the worst street, San Julian, sweeping up,” Key said. “We couldn’t show that picture though: a little bit of humanity.”

Business leader Blair Besten, who helped develop the Plan for Hope, said every idea in the proposal had been tried somewhere in the U.S.

“We have to stop saying there is one solution, or no solution,” said Besten, who heads the downtown historic core business improvement district.”There is a solution.”

LA Times 8/13/14: “City, county join forces in program to help homeless get off skid row”

Full article HERE.

“City, county join forces in program to help homeless get off skid row”
Written by Gale Holland

Los Angeles city and county workers launched a major effort Wednesday to clean up skid row and offer medical, mental health and social services to help an estimated 1,700 homeless people get off the streets.

Dr. Susan Partovi, the medical field director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, joined 35 city sanitation and street service workers, and a couple dozen mental health, medical and outreach workers, on San Julian Street between 5th and 6th streets.

“The goal is to house up to 10,000 people” in the next five years, Partovi said during a briefing before the cleanup. “Some of these people are acutely ill.”

Authorities described the $3.7-milion city-county program, called Operation Healthy Streets, as an unprecedented show of cooperation in an attempt to shake loose entrenched homelessness in the most concentrated skid row in the nation.

“We have coordination with the county, something we have rarely done in our approach to homelessness,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said. Huizar has also called for the appointment of an official to oversee the city’s initiatives on the homeless.

As several rats scuttled in and out of holes, sanitation workers in white protective suits threw away hazardous waste, then bagged homeless people’s belongings, mostly bedding and clothing, to store for 90 days for pickup by their owners.

Officials say that the cleanup will continue through Aug. 21, and be repeated bimonthly, on a 30-block grid from Wall to Gladys streets, between 5th and 7th streets. Spot touch-ups are also planned.

Many homeless residents are skeptical of the new approach after decades of failed cleanup efforts.

“People want to get off the streets, they don’t want to go where they send them,” said a homeless man who gave his name as Philip. He complained that some shelters require attendance at religious services or demand a sizable portion of people’s meager general relief check for rent.

Los Angeles native Omar Allah, 29, said there is no room in the shelters. “You’ve got to go to jail to find out about housing,” said Allah, who sat on a milk crate around the corner from San Julian, where he had been staying before the cleanup started.

“That’s your real house, jail,” said his friend, Mike Johnson, 30.

Partovi said the resistance to shelters and temporary housing is understandable. “They all want their own place,” she said, adding that the county is developing permanent housing that includes care for mental health, substance abuse and medical issues.

Teams will also have to contend with early jail and patient releases that feed skid row’s population.

Michele Jones, 30, said St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles discharged her in the middle of the night after back surgery, leaving her nowhere to go but skid row.

“I’ve tried to get into a place, nobody will help me,” said the Northridge native, who still had an EKG electrode patch stuck to her chest.

St. Vincent spokeswoman Ann Betzsold said she could not comment on Jones’ statements.

Partovi said the county is opening two centers this year where patients can recuperate after hospitalization.

During the cleanup, General Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network anti-poverty group, confronted Huizar, saying that Operation Healthy Streets funds would be better spent paying neighborhood residents who have been cleaning the streets on their own during years of official neglect.

Dogon also said the city was not doing enough. “People need resources on a daily basis,” he said.

But other new plans are afoot. The city and county, pushed by federal officials, are moving toward a “housing first” strategy that places people in apartments even if they have substance abuse or mental health issues.

Since 2008, Los Angeles County has committed to spending $118 million on 41 housing developments with a total of 2,066 residences, including 918 set aside for people who are mentally ill and homeless.

Partovi said her department has also set up an $18-million fund to subsidize rent for homeless people who cycle in and out of hospital care and emergency rooms.

LA Times 8/13/14: “Physician joins skid row cleanup to get homeless off the streets”

Full article HERE.

“Physician joins skid row cleanup to get homeless off the streets”
Written by Gale Holland

Armed with a stethoscope, Dr. Susan Partovi walked some of skid row’s meanest streets Wednesday, stopping to help a man dazed and stumbling down the sidewalk with blood caked on his head.

Luis Trejas, 40, said he’d been beaten up and asked for a cigarette. Partovi dropped her backpack, guided him down to the ground and took his blood pressure.

Partovi, the medical field director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, was part of a team of mental health, social service and medical workers who joined an initiative to curb entrenched homelessness in the 50-block downtown Los Angeles district.

The program was launched Aug. 4, when social, medical and mental health workers visited San Julian Street. The first cleanup took place Wednesday, and will continue through Aug. 21.

“The goal is to house up to 10,000 people” in the next five years, Partovi said during a briefing before the cleanup. “Some of these people are acutely ill.”

“We have coordination with the county, something we have rarely done in our approach to homelessness,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said. Huizar has also called for a homeless “czar” to over see the city’s initiatives.

Partovi was able to get paramedics to Trejas. But she and other team members will have more than violence and injury to overcome to fix skid row, where many homeless residents are skeptical about the new approach after decades of failed cleanup efforts.

“People want to get off the streets, they don’t want to go where they send them,” said a homeless man who gave his name as Philip. He said some of the shelters require attendance at religious services, while others demanded a sizable portion of people’s meager general relief check for rent.

“I been here five years, there ain’t no room in no shelters here,” said Omar Allah, 29, a Los Angeles native, sitting on a milk carton around the corner from San Julian, where he had been staying before the cleanup started. “You’ve got to go to jail to find out about housing.”

“That’s your real house, jail,” said his friend, Mike Johnson, 30.

Allah said he had been in transitional housing but left because of excessive regimentation and bad living conditions. He also said he had a psychiatric condition.

Partovi said the resistance to shelters and temporary housing is understandable. “They all want their own place,” she said. The county is developing permanent housing that includes mental health, substance abuse and medical care, she said.

Teams will also have to contend with early jail and patient releases that feed skid row’s population.

Michele Jones said St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles discharged her in the middle of the night after back surgery, leaving her nowhere to go but skid row.

“I’ve tried to get into a place, nobody will help me,” said the Northridge native, 30, who still had an EKG electrode patch stuck to her chest.

St. Vincent spokeswoman Ann Betzsold said she could not comment on Jones’ statements.

Partovi said the county is opening two centers this year where patients can recuperate after hospitalizations.

During the cleanup, General Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network anti-poverty group, confronted Huizar, saying Operation Healthy Streets funds would be better spent on paying neighborhood residents who have been cleaning the streets on their own during years of official neglect.

Dogon also said the city was not doing enough. “People need resources on a daily basis,” he said.

But other new plans are afoot. The city and county, pushed by federal officials, are moving toward a “housing first” strategy that places people in apartments even if they have substance abuse or mental health issues.

Since 2008, L.A. County has committed to spending $118 million on 41 housing developments with a total of 2,066 residences, including 918 set aside for people who are mentally ill and homeless.

Partovi said her department also has set up an $18 million fund to subsidize rents for homeless people who cycle in and out of hospital care and emergency rooms.

Police are also easing enforcement of minor offenses, and instead teaming with social service providers to identify seriously ill people who need help.

The emphasis on housing the most vulnerable could leave out those caught in a short-term crisis, or who simply are young.

Jennifer Wilbon, 21, of New York City said she came to Long Beach for a gay pride festival but became stranded on skid row after she was robbed.

“It’s hard to find places that take young people in,” she said.

LA is “crafting a new plan” for Skid Row – unfortunately in reality it’s really just talking points.

OCANO PHoto

May 2014 – Carlos Ocano, a homeless Skid Row resident with a known mental illness, who fell to his death after LAPD SWAT Team shot him with non-lethal ammunition. Why was SWAT called instead of the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), which pairs mental health professionals with specially trained officers? (Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Police Department and City of Los Angeles are “crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row.” This includes “developing a new strategy for taming pervasive homelessness on skid row, easing up on arrests for petty offenses while concentrating mental health, medical, housing and sanitation services in the long-troubled swath of downtown.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric – both on the part of the writer and city officials who are quoted throughout the piece – does not reflect the actual criminalization of an entire community and too often deadly use of force that continues to characterize LAPD policing in Skid Row.

To be clear, LA CAN has opposed “broken windows” policing from the day it was introduced in the form of the “Safer Cities Initiative.” The flawed policing method, introduced by former Chief Bill Bratton in 2006, has brought nothing but long-term devastation  that continues to plague the community. We would welcome any sincere efforts to shift the focus in Skid Row from policing and criminalization to housing, mental health services, and public health infrastructure. These are concrete solutions to ending homelessness that LA CAN has worked on securing for well over a decade.

LAPD San 6

July 2014 – LAPD officers at 6th and San Pedro after telling homeless residents they had to take their belongings and move on or “they would be going to jail.” (Credit: AARON CANTÚ)

However, the residents of Skid Row just aren’t seeing this supposed “more progressive approach” that LAPD Captain John McMahon describes in the article. Rather, residents continue to experience the more of the same: Citations and harassment for basic life-sustaining activities (like sitting or sleeping on the street); a lack of restroom facilities, trash cans, public space and other public services/amenities enjoyed by Downtowners who live west of Main St.; the business community actively opposing projects that would house homeless residents; regular examples of aggressive, violent, and deadly force; Private property theft on the part of Business Improvement District Guards/Workers; Racial profiling and targeting; and, an overall policing style that violates basic civil and human rights and punishes people for being homeless rather than connecting individuals with the services and support they need.

And if there is a new approach to how the community is policed, why haven’t the residents themselves heard about it? LA CAN has tried regularly to set up community meetings in which residents can express their ideas and concerns about the Safer Cities Initiative directly to LAPD and the Police Commission, and those demands and requests have been consistently declined. Recently LA CAN met with new leadership at LAPDs Central Division, secured a community meeting time and date to discuss Safer Cities implementation, only to have the meeting canceled at the last moment.

LA CAN welcome’s a genuine move toward actual solutions to homelessness (housing, services, ending the Safer Cities Initiative) – and have been organizing to make that a reality. However, we fully understand that just because LAPD says something doesn’t make it so – we will be convinced when the rubber meets the proverbial road.

arrest

June 2014 – A female resident of Skid Row being arrested after not listening to LAPD’s orders to get out of the street.

 

LA TIMES 9/19/13: “More people, making more money, are flocking to downtown L.A.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 2.06.06 PM
Link to Los Angeles Times article HERE.
By Emily Alpert
September 19, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

More people are flocking to downtown Los Angeles — and they have more money to spend, downtown advocates declared as they unveiled the results of a new study Thursday.

“We have more people. They’re making more money. They are more educated. And they are demanding more,” said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.

Schatz based her comments on an online survey promoted through community newspaper ads, postcards and door hangers. It drew responses from more than 8,800 people, including more than 3,700 residents. The group cautioned the study was not a “census,” but a sampling of “likely consumers.”

It found that median household incomes of downtown residents had risen by 10% since its last survey two years ago, and that downtowners were also increasingly educated.

The Downtown Center Business Investment District, funded by special taxes in the downtown area, hopes the results spur more investment in the urban core. People who live, work or visit downtown said they were especially interested in a Trader Joe’s or new department stores such as Nordstrom, the survey found. A Whole Foods is already on the way.

But the changes reshaping the city center have also raised worries about whether poorer residents will be served by a gentrified downtown.

“Low-income and middle-income people are also consumers,” said Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an advocacy group for people in poverty. “Everybody needs to be taken into account when looking at the future.”

The survey was released to reporters in a bright 9th Street loft owned by architect Simon Ha and his wife, Nikki Olson-Ha.

When they moved downtown six years ago, friends and family asked whether it was safe and where they would get groceries, Ha said. Now, people who hear they live downtown ask about new restaurants and how the neighborhood has changed, he said.