State of emer­gency sought for home­less­ness

Lodi News-Sentinel - - STATE - By Gale Hol­land

LOS AN­GE­LES — Fac­ing a deep­en­ing quag­mire over home­less en­camp­ments, Los An­ge­les elected of­fi­cials are in­creas­ingly look­ing to sweep­ing statewide ini­tia­tives to shake loose so­lu­tions.

The lat­est pro­posal from Los An­ge­les County Su­per­vi­sor Mark Ri­d­ley-Thomas and City Coun­cil­man Joe Bus­caino would have the gov­er­nor de­clare a state of emer­gency on home­less­ness in Cal­i­for­nia.

Sup­port­ers view such a dec­la­ra­tion as a novel strat­egy to free up state and fed­eral fund­ing typ­i­cally re­served for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, such as earth­quakes or wild­fires, and to sus­pend or stream­line the reg­u­la­tory hur­dles that of­ten slow down shel­ter and hous­ing de­vel­op­ment.

It also could block NIMBY op­po­nents from us­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views to sue and de­lay or block home­less fa­cil­i­ties from open­ing.

But some ques­tion whether an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion would be merely sym­bolic, given Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­jec­tions of more fed­eral fund­ing and Gov. Gavin New­som’s com­mit­ment of $1 bil­lion for lo­cal home­less pro­grams and sup­port for more reg­u­la­tory re­lief.

Last signed a pack­age of leg­is­la­tion that, among other things, ex­empts from en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view sup­port­ive hous­ing and shel­ter projects in the city of L.A. that re­ceive fund­ing from cer­tain pub­lic sources, in­clud­ing the $1.2 bil­lion Propo­si­tion HHH hous­ing bond that vot­ers ap­proved in 2016.

An­other new law al­lows cities in Alameda and Or­ange coun­ties, in ad­di­tion to the city of San Jose, to de­clare a shel­ter cri­sis so those lo­cal gov­ern­ments can even­tu­ally by­pass some plan­ning and zon­ing reg­u­la­tions to ex­pe­dite con­struc­tion.

“The gov­er­nor should not sign a dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency un­til the pro­po­nents iden­tify the spe­cific laws and reg­u­la­tions they want to get around, and the re­sources they be­lieve the dec­la­ra­tion would free up,” said Gary Blasi, a re­tired law pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in home­less­ness is­sues. “The state statutes re­gard­ing emer­gen­cies were not de­signed to re­spond to long­stand­ing po­lit­i­cal, lead­er­ship and moral dis­as­ters.”

New­som has not taken a stand on the cur­rent re­quest for a state of emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion. Alex Comisar, spokesman for Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti, said it was “a choice for the gov­er­nor to make.”

“There are more ques­tions that need to be worked through be­fore he could sup­port some­thing like that,” New­som spokesman Nathan Click said.

In 2015, City Coun­cil mem­bers and Garcetti an­nounced that they would de­clare an emer­gency lo­cally, but then dropped the idea as the mayor sought a statewide dec­la­ra­tion from then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who turned him down.

Then in 2018, Los An­ge­les de­clared a shel­ter cri­sis, which, along with a leg­isla­tive change, trig­gered stream­lin­ing of red tape around de­vel­op­ing emer­gency beds on pub­lic land.

Many in L.A. have been frus­trated by the slug­gish pace of con­struc­tion of new shel­ters and hous­ing for the es­ti­mated 44,000 res­i­dents in the county, in­clud­ing 27,000 in the city, who live out­doors in tents, cars or lean-tos, as op­posed to shel­ters or other tem­po­rary hous­ing.

Only 477 emer­gency shel­ter beds have been added in the last 2 12 ⁄ years for house­holds with­out chil­dren, which form the bulk of the home­less pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to an in­ven­tory re­leased in Septem­ber.

Bus­caino said he has grown par­tic­u­larly frus­trated that even tem­po­rary tent shel­ters on pub­lic land have be­come bogged down in ap­proval pro­cesses.

“We’re stop­ping for ev­ery red light, in­stead of treat­ing this like an emer­gency,” Bus­caino said.

Be­fore a meet­ing Fri­day of the gov­er­nor’s task force on home­less­ness, headed by Ri­d­ley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Dar­rell Stein­berg, New­som, in a let­ter, asked mem­bers to pri­or­i­tize get­ting peo­ple off the streets.

He un­der­scored that lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties must “fully en­force” pub­lic safety and health laws, touch­ing on the con­tro­ver­sial is­sue of san­i­ta­tion sweeps of en­camp­ments and other po­lice en­force­ment. He also asked the task force for pro­pos­als to break down bar­ri­ers to build­ing hous­ing and to get more home­less peo­ple into treat­ment.

FRANCINE ORR/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

A home­less en­camp­ment in down­town Los An­ge­les in April 2018. The city is in­creas­ingly look­ing to sweep­ing statewide ini­tia­tives for so­lu­tions in turn­ing the tide of grow­ing home­less­ness.

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