LA should pay $6.4 million for slow action in cleaning up homeless encampments, judge is told

Luis SincoLos Angeles Times TAMELA KERNEGHAN camps with her dog on a sidewalk near Grand Park in the shadow of LA City Hall.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

LA should pay $6.4 million for slow action in cleaning up homeless encampments, judge is told

LA politics

Doug Smith

February 9, 2024

Lawyers for a group of companies and residents are asking a federal judge to fine the city nearly $6.4 million after more than a year of stalling by Los Angeles officials for failing to complete a nearly two-year-old settlement agreement. has complied. clearing homeless camps.

The request for sanctions comes amid growing tension between the City Council and Mayor Karen Bass over its signature Inside Safe program, which provides $250 million for outreach and motel rentals to clean up camps.

Council members have become concerned that the money going toward temporary motel rentals will not count toward the city’s commitment in the lawsuit to provide beds through 2027.

Some council members have also taken issue with where the cleanup has taken place, suggesting the mayor has favored the wealthier Westside and West Valley districts over less affluent areas.

Frustration mounted so high last month that Council Member Monica Rodriguez and Council Member Kevin de Len’s chief of staff walked in uninvited for a negotiating session in a judge’s chambers to see what was discussed.

The motion, prepared for a March 4 hearing, alleges that the city has repeatedly missed deadlines and negotiated in bad faith the terms of a settlement agreement to house at least 60% of the people living on the streets in each municipal district.

Bass’ office did not comment on the motion. A spokesperson for the city attorney said the city would “respond in court in due course.”

For more than a year, the motion states, the city stood still and then tried to withdraw from the district-by-district obligation while Bass implemented a citywide program to clean up encampments, according to the motion filed by attorneys of the LA Alliance for Human Rights.

“The city has stymied efforts to establish critical encampments and created far fewer beds than promised,” the motion said. “This was a blatant violation of both the letter and spirit of the agreement and there must be consequences to ensure that defendants are not encouraged to further ignore their obligations.”

It also asks U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is presiding over the four-year-old case, to order the city to draw up plans within 30 days to clean up what it describes as two “high acuity areas,” Skid Row. and avenues 45 and 59 in Highland Park, which she cited as examples of low-income areas neglected by Bass’ citywide approach.

Although not large, the two Highland Park sites are home to “some of the most dangerous encampments in the city with frequent fires (an average of 3 fires per week on Avenue 45), constant drug activity, and major property and violent crime” and ““It represents the city’s inability and/or unwillingness to focus the same level of encampment reduction energy on this working-class neighborhood as it has expended on the wealthier West Side,” the motion said.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2020, named the city and the county, alleging that they both failed in their duty to provide shelter and services to unsheltered people, then estimated at 26,600 citywide and 44,200 in the entire province. These totals increased to about 32,700 in the city and 55,200 in the county in the most recent count.

The province reached a settlement in September committing to providing an additional 3,000 mental health beds and paying for services in city beds.

While Eric Garcetti was still in the mayor’s office, the city settled much earlier, in June 2022, agreeing to a plan to determine shelter needs in each of the city’s 15 municipal districts to provide beds to at least 60% of the unprotected population.

The motion describes a difficult series of meetings and negotiations that ultimately led to the plan being approved by the city council last month, 447 days late. The city initially met one requirement, pledging to produce 12,915 beds by June 2027, but failed to meet a second element: the number of encampments it would remove in each municipal district.

According to the chronology in the motion, Bass’s new administration initially told the LA Alliance for Human Rights that it would have service providers in each district district and would have assessed the needs of each district by October. Oct. 1, 2023. The city missed the deadline and instead proposed a single citywide camp clearance goal.

Bass was working on her Inside Safe program, which her office said has cleared more than 30 encampments to date and placed nearly 2,000 people in temporary or permanent housing.

During negotiating sessions late last year, the city changed its proposal several times, at one point offering to clean “a minimum of 12,000 tents, makeshift shelters, cars, vans and RVs” but later saying it could commit to only 5,300 move people. resolutions on leaving the camps if it adheres to the district-wise plan, the motion said.

De Len said in a statement that it was “deeply concerning” that city officials “would attempt to renegotiate an agreement without council approval.”

Councilman Bob Blumenfield told The Times that he heard rumors in early January that a citywide plan was being pushed and immediately contacted Bass to convince her of his strong opposition to giving up district goals.

“She assured me that wouldn’t be the case,” Blumenfield said.

On Jan. 6, the city offered what LA Alliance attorneys wanted: a breakdown of 9,800 camp reductions, broken down by municipal district and delineated into six-month periods.

But the submission was not shown to the city council, which had the final say on the settlement agreement. That prompted Rodriguez to participate in the negotiating session.

The city council presented the proposal to the city council in closed session on January 31, and the city council approved it, causing the city to comply with the proposal.

Lawyers for the LA Alliance then filed their motion, saying serious sanctions were necessary. They charge $100,000 per week for the 447 day period.

“For a year, the citizens of Los Angeles have not had to bear responsibility for the city’s non-compliance and obstructive behavior,” they said.

Blumenfield said he is optimistic that the discrepancy between Inside Safe and the LA Alliance settlement will be resolved.

“We all have the same goals: the council members and the alliance provide housing for people and camp resolutions,” he said. “Inside Safe is all about reducing encampments.”

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.


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