City Atty. Blasts Council Panel’s Action on Housing

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

City Attorney Mike Feuer issued a rare rebuke of some of his elected colleagues in Los Angeles Wednesday, decrying a City Council committee action that could lead to the delay or cancellation of an affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights.

Half of the 49 units at the complex would be set aside for the mentally ill or the homeless, and Feuer said more effort should be put into making the project happen.

Feuer, who rarely speaks out in opposition of City Council members, said, “We are in the midst of a homelessness crisis. Every leader, and every community, needs to be part of the solution. If there is any way this project can go forward, it should. My office stands ready to help make that happen.”

The project is being proposed by A Community of Friends, a nonprofit that builds housing for low-income and homeless people and operates 40 supportive housing complexes. The project, called Lorena Plaza, is planned for 3401 E. First St.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday agreed with an appeal filed by the owners of a nearby shopping center, El Mercado de Los Angeles, which argued the project is in need of a phase 2 environmental impact report, in part because of an abandoned oil well on the property. If approved by the full council, the action could delay or cancel the project, and also increase its costs.

Dora Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends, told the committee she had met with the El Mercado and their representative eight times.

“At the last meeting, in January of this year, they made it very clear to me and my board member that their sole objection to Lorena Plaza is that we are providing housing for people with a mental health disability,” Gallo said.

“Council members, there is no merit to this appeal.”

Citing the oil well and a lack of soil tests by the developer, Councilman Jose Huizar moved that the committee approve the appeal, and none of the other committee members objected. The decision overturned one made by the director of the City Planning Department.

Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, said, “I am extremely sensitive to the way that environmental factors impact the community’s health and quality of life. It is a community that historically has been burdened by the ill effects of heavy industry contamination and pollution.”

Huizar also said the fact the project would help mentally ill or the homeless had no bearing on the decision and defended his record of advocating for affordable housing, including his support of thousands of units of affordable housing in Boyle Heights.

“It’s not about NIMBYism. What’s before us today is about environmental review,” Huizar said.

Open Letter to the Public: Tactics in Boyle Heights Gentrification Debate

August 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As a decades-long and proud Boyle Heights resident, I wanted to provide a message on a very important topic in the community: Gentrification.

While I share the concerns of displacement and rising costs of housing in Boyle Heights, race-based targeting or vandalism of any kind, like what has been leveled against small businesses and art galleries, and most recently the Weird Wave coffee shop, is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

We all have the right to express our 1st Amendment-protected opinions – that is not in dispute. But when that turns into destroying property, or violence of any kind, or targeting people solely based on race, that goes against everything Boyle Heights stands for.

We can and should use our freedom of speech to speak out for our neighbors whose rents are unreasonably being increased, like our mariachis who face eviction on 2nd Street, or in solidarity with our sidewalk vendors when they are the target of violence, like the recent incident with “Elotero Man” Benjamin Ramirez. I actively support those protest efforts and will continue to do so.

But in regards to destroying property, violence or race-baiting tactics, Boyle Heights’ history as a diverse community has taught us valuable lessons: violence is never the answer, and racism begets racism. We must reject it today, tomorrow and always. In its early years, Boyle Heights became one of the City’s first truly diverse communities by, in part, rejecting racist covenants prevalent in other Los Angeles’ neighborhoods that literally outlawed people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds from living together.

Instead of targeting business owners, particularly small business owners, we should instead focus our attention on tangible solutions to address the gentrification issues we face in Boyle Heights, and indeed throughout the entire City.

There are real concerns about housing affordability in Boyle Heights and the City of Los Angeles. Even though more of the housing in Boyle Heights has protections under rent control than in other parts of the City, too many of our neighbors are still getting displaced due to rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing.

My office has worked with local community organizations and the City to push forward several housing initiatives, including a door-to-door campaign in Boyle Heights to inform the more than 88% of renters who are protected under the City’s rent-control and who have protections from illegal rent increases and evictions.

Other actions we’ve taken include pushing for legislation to:

 

     —Ban renter harassment by property owners/landlords.

     —Require more substantive information on tenant rights be given to renters in rent-controlled units when they sign their leases.

     —Expand affordable housing by safely permitting Unapproved Dwelling Units, so-called “bootleg” apartments, in exchange for        affordable units.

     —Request the Housing Department create a plan to monitor and extend the City’s affordable housing covenants that are set to expire.

     —Create a publicly available list of the City’s affordable housing stock and post it online.

     —Require City staff to report back on methods and incentive-driven programs to keep long-standing small businesses in local communities.

     —Establish a Housing Department office at our Boyle Heights City Hall, where residents can receive direct assistance from housing experts.

 

And while my office has partnered with various affordable housing organizations to bring more affordable housing to Boyle Heights than most other City neighborhoods, we are actively seeking more opportunities to bring additional affordable housing to Boyle Heights.

I will also continue to press for a Linkage Fee, which would help create a steady stream of affordable housing income by linking new fees to development. This proposal will soon be heard – and I hope adopted – in the Planning Committee that I serve as Chair.

These are just a few things we can do together. Whether we’re expressing our free speech, or working to create better policy, let’s not lose sight of who we are and what Boyle Heights is all about. Our history offers us another valuable lesson: when Boyle Heights works together toward one goal, we can do anything.

Adelante!

Jose Huizar represents the city of Los Angeles’ 14 Council District, which includes Boyle Heights, Downtown Los Angeles, El Sereno, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and other areas of Northeast Los Angeles.

 

Chiang Takes Campaign for Governor to Boyle Heights

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

State Treasurer John Chiang began what is being billed as a statewide listening tour for his campaign for governor Tuesday in Boyle Heights, one day short of a year before the primary election. While there, he also picked up an endorsement from Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area that was once home to former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also a candidate for governor.

“John is the very definition of a public servant,” Huizar said at Mariachi Plaza. “If you want flash and no substance, look no further than the White House at this time, and see how that’s working out. But if you want a trusted, steady and fearless leader who knows when to be tough against special interests, who knows when to cross the aisle to get things done for the people, then John Chiang is your choice for governor.”

The endorsement comes as a bit of a surprise in the gubernatorial race, given Huizar’s relationship with candidate and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who supported Huizar’s bid to replace him on the City Council.

Their relations became strained during the 2015 election season, however, when Villaraigosa backed former county Supervisor and Councilwoman Gloria Molina in her bid to unseat Huizar. Molina and Villaraigosa go way back, supporting each other’s political aspirations for decades.

Villaraigosa has not commented on Huizar’s backing of Chiang.

Chiang thanked Huizar for his support, calling him a “dear friend” and an “extraordinary council member.

“This is such a fantastic place,” he told the crowd of supporters. “I am so honored to be in this community. I strongly support Jose and his extraordinary efforts to strengthen this community by investing in safer neighborhoods.”

After the event at Mariachi Plaza, where mariachi musicians have gathered since the 1930s in hopes of being hired by visitors, Chiang visited the Libros Schmibros Lending Library and dined at Al & Bea’s Mexican Restaurant.

Chiang chose to start the tour in Boyle Heights because of its rich history as a multi-ethnic community of immigrants that reflects the “vibrant and rich diversity throughout California,” according to his campaign.

His second stop on the tour was in San Francisco Wednesday.

Chiang officially began efforts to run for governor on May 17, 2016, when he opened an account to raise money for a campaign.

“I’m running for governor to make sure the future my parents provided for my family becomes a reality for the future of all California families,” Chiang told City News Service in February response to a series of questions emailed to his campaign.

“As a child of immigrant parents, me and my siblings grew up in a much different time. My parents arrived in this country, each dreaming of a better future. While their determination and relentlessness led to a middle-class neighborhood with better schools, we still experienced bigotry, as the first Asian-American family on the block, but my parents never gave up on a better life for my family.”

The field to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, who is barred from running for re- election in 2018 because of term limits, also includes Chiang’s fellow Democrats Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Villaraigosa and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

Chiang was elected treasurer in 2014 after two terms as controller. He was first elected to the Board of Equalization in 1998. He began his career as a tax law specialist with the Internal Revenue Service and later was an attorney in the State Controller’s Office.

 

Huizar Says No to Run for Becerra Seat

December 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar today took himself out of the running to fill the congressional seat expected to be vacated by Rep. Xavier Becerra’s appointment as state attorney general, while state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, threw his hat into the ring.

“After careful consideration and much discussion with my wife Richelle and family, we have decided not to run for the 34th Congressional seat that will soon be vacated by the appointment of Congressman Xavier Becerra to the attorney general position,” Huizar said today. “I will proudly continue as a Los Angeles City Councilmember for the 14th District.”

Gomez, meanwhile, told the Los Angeles Times today that he will run for the seat.

“After talking it over with my family and supporters, I have decided to run for the 34th Congressional seat,” Gomez said, according to the Times. “… Now more than ever, we need strong values-based leadership in Washington that will protect our families, friends and neighbors from divisive rhetoric and policies. I’m ready to stand up and do just that.”

Gomez lives in Eagle Rock and was just elected to his third term in the Legislature.

Former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez declared his intention to run for Becerra’s seat soon after Becerra’s appointment was announced by Gov. Jerry Brown. Perez was appointed a UC Regent by Brown in 2014.

Journalist and activist Wendy Carrillo announced her candidacy today as well. The Boyle Heights resident most recently served as host and executive producer of the public affairs program “Knowledge is Power” on KPWR radio (Power 106).

Other names that have been floated as possible contenders include, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo and L.A. Unified School Board Member Monica Garcia, whose name is also being mentioned as a candidate for Cedillo’s or Gomez’ seat should one of those two move on to another office.

Brown appointed Becerra on Thursday to succeed fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last month.

If confirmed by the state Senate and Assembly – as expected – Becerra will serve the final two years of Harris’ term and become California’s first Latino attorney general.

A special election would then be held to fill Becerra’s congressional seat.

Homeless Housing Gets Boost from Voters

November 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles city officials Wednesday were hailing voter approval of a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund permanent housing for the chronically homeless.

Proposition HHH will allow the city to sell bonds to finance as many as 10,000 housing units geared to homeless people who are difficult to house. The “permanent supportive housing” will include on-site health, mental health and substance-abuse services and case management.

About 20 percent of the bond money could also be put toward low-income housing to help keep financially struggling Angelenos from sliding into homelessness.

“When we think of the 28,000 of our brothers and sisters who are sitting in the streets or their cars tonight, we are going to show them some home is on the way tomorrow in the city of L.A.,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday night.

City Councilman Jose Huizar hailed voters for backing the bond issue.

“The citizens of Los Angeles recognize that homelessness is the moral dilemma of our generation and have entrusted in us to provide the housing HHH allows, along with the related services needed, to take a major step forward in addressing homelessness in the city of Los Angeles,” Huizar said. “It is now up to us to deliver on the promise of HHH and change the paradigm of homelessness for thousands of Angelenos from a feeling of hopelessness, pain and despair, to one of hope, joy and the opportunity for a better life.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also weighed in, commending city voters “for recognizing the homeless crisis and stepping up to provide funding for permanent housing to restore dignity to those living in utter squalor.”

“With the passage of HHH, it’s now time for the county to step up to provide critical supportive services for the homeless,” he said.

Property owners will be on the hook for repaying the bonds. City officials estimate that the annual cost would be about $10 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value, if the debt is paid back over 29 years. The total debt, including interest, is estimated by city officials to be as much as $1.9 billion.

The $1.2 billion bond amount will be the biggest voters have ever authorized the city to issue. The largest thus far was $600 million to pay for citywide security improvements. Voters have also approved city bond measures to build public facilities for the library, police, fire department, animal shelters and the zoo, and to make seismic upgrades.

The bond measure, put forward by City Council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Huizar, was placed on the ballot as homelessness in Los Angeles becomes harder to ignore.

The homeless population has increased steadily in recent years, rising by at least 5.2 percent in the last year. The signs of homelessness also became more visible after the courts struck down city laws and policies that had allowed authorities to more quickly remove homeless encampments.

City leaders last year vowed to tackle homelessness and spend about $100 million toward the effort. They estimate it will cost about $1.85 billion over a decade to adequately house and provide services to homeless people and families in Los Angeles. The latest count put the city’s homeless population at more than 28,000.
 

Council Approves Donation For Homeless Shelter

December 17, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday approved a $20,000 donation to a nonprofit organization that operates a 36-bed homeless shelter at a Highland Park church and was earlier denied funding.

The money will go to Recycled Resources, which is working with All Saints Episcopal Church to turn pews into beds. The group has been relying on crowd-funding efforts and financial help from the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council.

Monica Alcaraz, a volunteer with the group, said the funds will help the group reimburse the church for heating, lighting and other costs.

The church is “not charging (us) anything, but we feel it’s necessary to pay for the costs they are incurring,” she said.

The money may also be used for food, Metro TAP cards and other necessities, she said.

Councilman Jose Huizar introduced the motion to take the $20,000 out of his 14th Council District’s discretionary account.

“I wanted to ensure that they have the necessary funding to continue their life-altering work during this time of need and upcoming El Nino storms,” he said.

“I had the pleasure of recently meeting several NELA (Northeast Los Angeles) shelter residents, and I am profoundly impressed by their thankfulness, grace and high spirits.”

Recycled Resources is also hoping to apply for more funding from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which provides money to winter shelters.

The funds could pay those who are volunteers who are helping despite having day jobs, making sure there is better chance for the shelter to keep running, Alcaraz said.

The nonprofit organization may work with Ascencia, a more experienced shelter provider that operates an 80-bed shelter in Glendale and already receives funding from LAHSA.

Natalie Komuro, executive director for Ascencia, said it is working out a contract with LAHSA to obtain funding for the All Saints Episcopal Church site.

Because LAHSA’s winter shelter funding is distributed based on the number of beds, Komuro said it may face a $30,000 funding gap because the number of staff that may be needed and other operating expenses stays the same whether it is a 36-bed or 80-bed shelter.

The shelter also faced a hurdle recently when LAHSA deemed the church site unsuitable, with the agency’s officials noting that pews were being used as the beds.

This prompted Councilman Gil Cedillo to recommend the Bridewell Armory, a facility owned by the city. However, Recycled Resources volunteers criticized this site as being unready for immediate use.

Alcaraz described the armory as “inhabitable,” saying it needs remodeling and has no electricity or running water. Ceja countered that the location is actually not as bad as described and can be quickly converted into a shelter.

Komuro said it appears Cedillo, whose district includes the church site, has since been able to persuade LAHSA to reconsider the church location, and is now moving forward with the contract to provide winter shelter funding.

Cedillo appeared to signal his support for the church site, authoring a motion approved by the council today that includes Ascencia as the city’s designated temporary shelter provider for the All Saints Episcopal Church location.

Cedillo aide Fredy Ceja said this will allow Ascencia to work with LAHSA to obtain the per-bed shelter funding, and relax building rules that typically makes the church shelter vulnerable to being shut down by city building officials.

Designating Ascencia as the service provider for the church shelter would also make the group eligible for the next round of city homeless services funding, after it was unable to get funding from the $12.4 million in emergency homeless relief money that was proposed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and recently approved by the City Council.

Alcaraz said that despite Cedillo’s motion, there are still many unknowns.

Ascencia’s board still needs to decide if it would be financially feasible to take over the shelter, so there is no guarantee they would agree to do it, and LAHSA has not directly told Recycled Resources that the church site has been approved, Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz, who is also president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, added that Cedillo could have done more to help them get the relief funding.

Cedillo had originally intended to assign funds to their shelter, but instead of specifying from the outset that some of the $12.4 million should go to the All Saints Episcopal Church shelter, he had submitted their request using the more vague wording of “Highland Park shelter.”

This move, or Cedillo’s unwillingness to commit to the church site, could have hurt their chances of getting the money, Alcaraz said. She said Cedillo appeared to want to push the armory facility, located in the 14th Council District.

“Why not support something that’s already happening, and going to continue to happen?” Alcaraz said, referring to the existing church shelter.

“Or at least I’m going to try.”

 

Bonin Wants L.A. to Explore Putting Homeless Funds Into Housing

April 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A city panel on homelessness formed Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council will explore ways the city could build more housing for the homeless.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness will take up three motions introduced by Councilman Mike Bonin that suggest there is not enough housing for the homeless in the city, resulting in numerous sidewalk encampments.

Bonin, who will serve as vice-chair of the panel, called for the city to redirect its spending on homelessness toward building more housing for the homeless.

One of the motions notes that a 2006 court ruling prevents the city from banning people from sleeping on sidewalks if they do not have anywhere else to go, but a subsequent settlement agreement requires that the city build only 1,250 units of new housing for the homeless, with at least 50 percent in the Skid Row area or downtown Los Angeles.

“The settlement has served the interests of no one, and its consequences have been sever,” Bonin said, because it still leaves the homeless with not enough housing.

Bonin represents the Venice area, where he said 70 percent of calls to the fire station there are to treat or transport chronically homeless people. Despite the high demand for housing for the homeless in Venice and the rest of the Westside, the closest housing with services for the homeless is located in Torrance, he said.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana released a report earlier this month that found the city has no focused plan to address issues affecting the city’s 23,000 homeless people, despite spending more than $100 million each year on the issue.

Bonin called the report a “wake-up call,” and said the city is essentially “wasting $100 million a year” by working without a plan.

The newly created committee will be chaired by Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, considered to have the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

The panel will look at ways to streamline the city’s response to homelessness and better coordinate with the Los Angeles County and other organizations that offer services to the homeless.

Huizar said the existing policy “has clearly failed us,” with the city preoccupied in recent years with reacting to litigation over issues around homelessness.

Surge in Highland Park Gang Shootings Has People Worried

April 3, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Worried about a rash of gang-related shootings in their neighborhood, residents packed a meeting at the Highland Park Senior Center Thursday night to hear what police are doing to get the situation under control.

A turf war between two rival gangs – Avenues and HLP – is being blamed for the 13 shootings, 9 people shot, in less than two months. Not all the victims were gang members, said Capt. Anthony Oddo of the Los Angeles Police Dept. Northeast Division.

He pointed out the boldness of the shootings, several which took place in broad daylight with many people around.

The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council hosted the meeting, with representatives of the two city council districts that cover the area, CD-1 and CD-14, LAPD Police Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa, Supervisor Hilda Solis and the city attorney’s office in attendance.

Ranking officers assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division were out in force and did most of the talking, answering questions and taking criticism from residents.

Northeast police know there is a problem and we are getting reinforcements, including more patrol units and special teams from other areas, Oddo said.

But we are getting very little information from the public about the shootings and none of the shooters are in custody, he said.

“Victims are not talking to us … they are not gang members; they’re scared,” the captain said, adding the department needs the public’s help to stop the shootings.

There has been 105 arrests in the Highland Park area during the same period, but none have led to the shooters, he said, but he’s hopeful one may still lead to a suspect.

You may not be sure if it’s important, but the smallest bit of information, things heard from other people can be looked into and may lead somewhere, he said, urging people to call police with any information they may have.

Several residents complained they’ve seen this coming for some time, noting the increase in graffiti and “cross outs,” the practice of one gang crossing out the tag of a rival, which often leads to violent retaliation.

They say they call the graffiti in right away to get cleaned up to try to stop the violence that could come next, but wanted to know what else they could do.

Call in what you see, get to know your neighbors, form a neighborhood watch, were among the suggestions.

“We cannot do this alone, we need the community to get involved,” officers said.

Residents say they are worried AB 109 and the governor’s prison realignment, and passage of Proposition 47, are sending criminals released early from jail back into their neighborhood.

One speaker said gang members are hanging out at homeless encampments and  she’s heard the homeless are being paid with drugs to burglarize local homes and cars.

Resident Richard Marquez said it’s time to stop dancing around and talk about the real issue: Highland Park has a big problem with meth dealers and users, and it’s big money. “Meth dealers pay taxes to gang members” and the way to stop the shootings is to shut down the drug trade, he said.

“There’s a fight for the financial gain of the drug turf in the neighborhoods,” Marquez said.

Lt. John Cook is in charge of Northeast’s gang reduction unit and said they are closely monitoring the gang members coming out of jail.

Are there still gang injunctions in place? someone asked.

There are three gang injunctions—a court-issued restraining order prohibiting known gang members from congregating with each other— in place, (Avenues, Dogtown, HLP), but they don’t apply to new gang members, according to Cook.

Former Highland Park resident Lily Herrera said she is worried about her mother who still lives in the neighborhood. Years of mistrust of the police by residents is keeping people from saying what they know. “The community is afraid because there’s a barrier” when it comes to communication, she said.

She suggested LAPD explore more strategies to reach out to the community.

Teacher Gemma Marquez demanded to know why police are not regularly visiting local elementary schools to develop those relationships. “We know who the at-risk kids are,” she said. “We know the families, we see them as early as kindergarten,” and the police need to present a different view.

She also criticized officers for not notifying Garvanza Elementary to go on lock-down during a recent shooting at a nearby park. “Where were you! We should have been called.”

Oddo apologized for not considering students were still at the afterschool program at 5 p.m. when the shooting occurred.

LAPD has “very little coming in” from the community and that’s frustrating, said Oddo. He said his top priority is the violence in the Northeast, but said he needs people to call them when they see something.

Two upcoming events will provide more information and resources to the community: the Annual Peace in the Northeast March and Resource Fair on April 18, and a forum on gang injunctions April 30 at the Highland Park Senior Center.

Updated 04-06-15 to add LAPD Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa attended the meeting.

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.

 

EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

Nothing New at ‘State of the City’ Forum

January 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It was an effort to get residents in East and Northeast Los Angeles civically engaged, but turnout for the “State of the City” forum in Boyle Heights last Saturday was sparse, with most of those in attendance already regulars at community meetings and forums.

The Los Angeles chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV), a non-profit, nonpartisan national political organization, sponsored the forum and invited the neighborhood councils of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Glassell Park, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Cypress Park and Highland Park to attend.

The group said the “pilot” eastside event was in keeping with its mission to encourage active and informed participation in government, particularly in the city of Los Angeles.

Participants at the ‘State of the City’ forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Los  Angeles on Saturday listen to presentations by city departments. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Participants at the ‘State of the City’ forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Los Angeles on Saturday listen to presentations by city departments. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

It was hoped the forum at the Evergreen Senior Center in Boyle Heights would be a new opportunity for the city’s east and northeast area residents to  “hear from their leaders their vision for 2015,” and that they would give feedback to create a better city of Los Angeles.

The effort faced challenges from the beginning, however.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Charlie Beck, Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas and L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP) General Manager Marcie Edwards were all invited to take part as speakers, but each opted to send a representative in their place.

A wrong address on the invitation and a lack of communication could have contributed to the low-turnout, said some of those who did attend.

Some speculated campaigning in the 14th District City Council race might also have been a factor, though former supervisor and city council candidate Gloria Molina did stop by for a few minutes to listen in, and Councilman Jose Huizar aid Jennifer Martinez was in the audience.

“It’s bad that there are not a lot of people here, [but] they [the League] are doing a good job, people need to be informed,” Molina told EGP.

Whether the problem was timing, logistics, miscommunication or unfamiliarity with the League is unclear, what is clear, however, is that only a few dozen people showed up Saturday at the center where a local Mariachi group had been hired to play as a welcoming gesture to the attendees.

The presentations, followed by questions, were light on details, especially for an audience made up of people who make it a practice, if not a mission, to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods and the city.

Participants listened politely as the mayor’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, talked about her boss’ plan to focus in 2015 on job creation, helping homeless veterans, fixing streets and sidewalks, raising the minimum wage and retrofitting buildings in the city to withstand an earthquake.

They listened as Sgt. Kenneth Edwards of LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division explained that much of the city’s 14.3% increase in violent crime could be attributed to a rise in the number of domestic violence cases, and as he explained the department’s need for more cooperation from the community and crime victims.

They heard from Deputy Chief Phillip T. Fligiel that LAFD hopes to improve emergency response times by reorganizing the department into four bureaus. They also heard about the importance of having smoke detectors with working batteries. Many local fire stations are even giving them away free, Fligiel said.

According to DWP representative Albert Perez, the main part of a DWP employee’s job is to help ratepayers save money on their bills. He explained that the utility has many incentives to get there, and urged customers to adopt water conservation practices.

Carlos Montes, president of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said the information presented was important but he was hoping to hear more specifics at the “State of the City” about critical issues facing Boyle Heights, namely “gentrification, pollution and jobs.”

Long-time Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez, who on any given day can be found at one community meeting or another, said the speakers did not bring anything new to the table.

She said she was disappointed by the tone and how general the information from the mayor, the Police and Fire departments and DWP was.

“They approach us and think we are uneducated, they think we don’t know what they are talking about,” Marquez said.

Montes attributes the low turnout, at least in part, to the League not knowing eastside communities very well. He said they should have reached out to find co-sponsors from the communities they were trying engage.

It could also be that those who attended are already engaged and better informed than the average city resident or voter, explaining the seemingly lack of enthusiasm for the League’s programming.

“We certainly will use the information we received from the attendees’ reactions to shape any programs in the future,” League President Elizabeth Ralston told EGP. “It seemed clear that the audience was more interested in hearing from the Mayor’s Office and the Police Department than the Fire Department and DWP.

League Director Carlos Medina told EGP that the forum was the first of many such sessions they hope to hold on the eastside, and their effort to get to know the community better.

The discussions that take place at these types of forums help the League form its positions on many policy issues, Medina explained.

The political advocacy group, which welcomes both men and women as members, is widely respected and often turned to for information on candidates and ballot measures. The group’s voter website, SmartVoter.org, provides a great deal of information in both those areas, as well as information about voting practices and voter’s rights.

“We don’t lobby, but we advocate for the state legislature or for the city council to take an action on a position that the League has already” taken, said Medina, such as issues related to homelessness, crime, the LAPD and climate change policies.

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