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Governor's $1.4B Homelessness Plan Lacks A 'Clear Strategy,' Legislative Analyst Says

A homeless man sleeps on a bus bench on a hot day in Downtown Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

A new report pulls the rug out from under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to fight homelessness.

Newsom carved out more than $1.4 billion in his proposed budget last month to go towards homeless services — a lot of money with a lot of promise behind it.

But in its report, the state Legislative Analyst's Office says the Governor’s plan doesn't present a “clear strategy,” and that it was less likely to have a "meaningful, ongoing impact" on the problem.

“This [plan] kind of represents a series of investments the state government has done as one-time measures,” Gary Painter, director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute at USC, tells KPCC’s Take Two. “The hope for many lawmakers that I’ve spoken to is that they will be able to craft a long-term strategy, but they recognize that it’s going to take some time to develop such a strategy.”

With the homelessness crisis swelling with each day, however, the governor’s office says their plan is aggressive enough for the short-term.

"We strongly disagree with the assertion that emergency funding to fight homelessness should be spread thinly, with less accountability and in keeping with business as usual,” Newsom press secretary Jesse Melgar said in a statement. “The Governor's proposal aims to use the new fund as a catalyst for wraparound services to get people off the street and calls on locals to do the same."

The first in-depth hearing by state lawmakers on Newsom’s proposal kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco.


LA-Area Lawmakers Recognized As 'Civil Liberties Champions'

An exterior of the state capitol in Sacramento, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Three state lawmakers from the L.A. area have been dubbed "Civil Liberties Champions" by the American Civil Liberties Union of California. The legislators got top marks from the nonprofit based on their voting records in 2019.

The ACLU of California tracks how all state legislators vote on bills related to civil rights issues, including criminal justice reform, education equity, economic justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive justice, data privacy and voting rights.

The local "champions" are senators Steven Bradford of Gardena and Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager of Los Angeles. In total, nine state legislators got perfect voting scores and were dubbed champions.

Kevin Baker, legislative director for the ACLU of California, says the idea is to help educate voters.

"We encourage folks to review the scores about how legislators vote on various issues to see whether their legislators are supporting their values, and we hope that people will use this scorecard to give legislators feedback," Baker says.

Nearly 200 bills that the ACLU took a stance on factored into the 2019 scorecards, including landmark police use of force legislation.

"We also did other legislation in the area of voting rights to make it easier for people to register to vote. We were involved in efforts to make the criminal justice system more fair and make the jury process more fair," Baker said. "A lot of issues, as well, with reproductive rights and access to medical care, so there's a wide range of issues that we cover."

The ACLU's full list of state legislator scorecards will be released next week.


Huizar Proposes A Car-Free Broadway

A woman walks her dog in downtown Los Angeles. Chava Sanchez/LAist

L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar today called for the city to study the possibility of making Broadway car-free between First and 12th streets downtown.

Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway plan has already improved the pedestrian experience by widening sidewalks and adding landscaping, lighting and street furniture to walkways. This would take it a step further by closing off vehicular traffic completely and allowing only pedestrians, bikes, scooters and public transportation.

If passed, Huizar’s motion would instruct the Economic & Workforce Development Department to report on the feasibility of such a plan, with special consideration given to the protection of Broadway’s historic theaters.

A similar plan has been proposed for Hollywood Boulevard, and San Francisco recently implemented a largely car-free zone on Market Street.

1 Bighorn Sheep, 2 Bighorn Sheep... The Count Is Coming Soon

A bighorn ewe and her lamb walk a ridge in the Mojave Trails National Monument in 2017. Her fellow bighorns in the San Gabriel Mountains will be counted next month. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Did you know the San Gabriel Mountains are home to hundreds of bighorn sheep?

The native, hooved mammals live in pockets of rugged and steep terrain. They’re related to the desert bighorn that live in the Mojave Desert.

Next month, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife — along with 250 volunteers — will be conducting an annual count of the sheep.

Senior Wildlife Biologist Jeff Villepique has been running the count for the last twelve years or so.

“It is one of our iconic, native species in California. Just in their natural distribution, there aren’t a whole lot of them. Somewhere less than 5,000 Bighorn Sheep in California,” said Villepique.

Villepique said the population of sheep has significance: studies suggest these animals are bellwethers to climate change.

The count happens March 1st, but signups for volunteers are now closed due to an “overwhelming response.” Results are expected in mid-March.


City Councilman Wants To Tighten LA’s Rent Control Caps

An apartment for rent in Central Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

With rents rising faster than wages in Los Angeles, one city official wants to tighten up existing rent control rules.

“Rent control as it is currently working is not successfully protecting renters from exorbitant costs,” said L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who put forward a new motion Wednesday to more closely tie rent control to inflation.

Bonin also introduced several other housing-related motions on Wednesday that would:

  • Potentially require LLCs to disclose their owners when purchasing residential real estate in the city of L.A.
  • Explore the creation of more publicly funded “social housing”
  • Express the city’s support for federal housing legislation including the “Green New Deal for Public Housing Act” and the “Homes For All Act”

But let's get back to his motion on rent control:


Under the city’s current rules, landlords can raise rents by at least 3% each year, or more depending on inflation and whether they pay for utilities. Allowable increases this year start at 4%.

Bonin's plan, which is in early stages, would allow rent hikes equivalent to 60% of the local Consumer Price Index, which averaged 1.4% from 2009 to 2018.

Bonin’s motion also calls for a potential rent freeze for tenants who’ve seen their rents outpace the overall cost of living.

A recent paper from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies noted that L.A. has higher allowable increases than many other California cities with rent control, such as San Francisco and Santa Monica.

The paper’s author, Shane Phillips, said L.A.’s allowable hikes have compounded over time to strain the budgets of some long-term renters.

“If your rent were increasing by the maximum allowable increase each year, you might be paying three to four hundred dollars more per month at this point than if it had been tied to inflation,” he said.


Property owners say any move to tighten L.A.'s rent control would just double down on what they see as a cause of, not a solution to, the city’s shortage of affordable housing.

Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said rent control is one of the policies that has “gotten us into our current situation of severe housing shortages, rising rents caused by these shortages, and ever-increasing homelessness.”


LA Leaders Call For End To Mountain Lion Killings

Mountain lion P-56 Courtesy of National Park Service

After mountain lion P-56 was found shot dead this week, two L.A. city council members, Paul Koretz and David Ryu, have written a resolution asking the state to stop issuing permits which allow landowners to shoot a mountain lion if they can prove their livestock was damaged or killed by the animal.

That was the fate of P-56 after a depredation permit was issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife following the death of a dozen sheep and lambs in the Camarillo area.

"I think there's just an insane disconnect between the fact that we are working to conserve our mountain lions, especially in the city of Los Angeles, where there's possibly one still surviving that's collared and there may be another one that's not collared -- two males, and we just allowed one to be killed," Koretz said.


Protestors Pitch Tents Outside Council Member O'Farrell's Office

Protesters pitched tents outside Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's office on Wednesday. They have been demanding the city make it easier for the homeless to live at places like Echo Park Lake. Sharon McNary/LAist

Homeless advocates in Echo Park have moved their protest to the offices of council member Mitch O'Farrell, setting up tents on the street outside. They said they feel he's not been active enough in dealing with the issues of tent residents in Echo Park.

The demonstration follows a cleanup effort earlier this morning at a homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake, which went ahead without any clashes, despite the presence of the protesters.

For a few months the encampment at the north end of the lake has been turning political, making more demands of the city to enable the residents to live there more easily.

Two weeks ago, there had been a confrontation here between park personnel and some of the tent dwellers. When the city sanitation department posted notices a few days ago advising park residents of today's cleanup, a homeless advocacy group had urged its members to show up here. Those supporters brought their own tents, swelling the population.

However, today’s protest was peaceful. A line of city maintenance vehicles showed up at about 8:30 a.m., together with a crew of about a dozen cleanup staff accompanied by a park ranger.

As they toured the campsite, picking up a small amount of trash, the park ranger chatted to some residents. Then they were done.

Activists had posted signs on some of the tents in an attempt to shame Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, because, they say, he responds to the demands of the people living in apartments and houses across the street, but will not come to the park himself.

This is a developing story.

Behind The Scenes: Investigating A SoCal Rental Empire


Last winter, our investigative reporter Aaron Mendelson was on a mission to report on evictions in Southern California — no easy task. He'd never heard of Mike Nijjar or PAMA Management.

At an investigative team meeting, Aaron briefed us on his progress, explaining that as he compiled his spreadsheets, he'd started to see the same plaintiff's names over and over on eviction cases. Some of those names seemed very similar.

Aaron had started to unravel the thread on a story we're publishing today. This is important work, the kind of journalism made possible by our readers' support. The story today is just the start of a yearlong effort by our newsroom to examine what life is like inside California's housing crisis.

Again and again, low-income renters used the same word when they described their circumstances to Aaron: "Stuck."

They wouldn't live with bedbugs or roaches or rats and sewage spills if they could afford something better or had somewhere else to go. And in many respects, all but the wealthiest Southern Californians are stuck in this housing crisis -- priced out of buying or moving, or in the worst cases, having a roof to sleep under at all.

Please watch Aaron explain some of his key takeaways from this deeply reported story. I encourage you to read and share this report with your friends, family and colleagues.


Officials Are Cracking Down On Airbnbs In Joshua Tree

Stock Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

Airbnbs and other short-term rentals in the Joshua Tree area used to be unregulated. Now San Bernardino County is requiring rental owners to have a permit and pass an inspection.

Some residents have pushed back against the new rules, saying officials are unfairly strict when they inspect units for building code violations. And some of the complaints that inspectors are being heavy-handed seem credible, says county spokesman David Wert.

"They're looking at things that don't need to be looked at, code violations that don't really pertain to the rental aspect of the property," he says.

To address some of those concerns, the county has advised code inspectors "to be courteous, to be customer service oriented, that these folks are our customers, they're not violators," Wert says.

But he also stresses that it's an inspector's job to make sure rental units are safe.

"You have some properties out there where there will be a main house that was built with the necessary permits and then over the years, people have added on rooms to them or built another structure on the property that weren't permitted," he says. "Those kinds of properties can't be used for short-term rentals because they aren't permitted and therefore there was no inspection done to make sure that they can stand up to the wind, or that the electricity is safe and up to code."

The new regulations came about after the county received complaints from residents about short-term rentals becoming party houses. Now there will be a cap on the number of people who can stay in a rental unit depending on its square footage.

The new law took effect in December, and short-term rental owners have until Mar. 31 to apply for a permit. As of Tuesday, the county had received 121 permit applications.


LA County Will Try Bail Reform, But Critics Say It’s Going About It All Wrong

(Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for UNITAS)

Los Angeles County is moving ahead with a bail reform pilot program, despite warnings from criminal justice reform advocates that the program will perpetuate racial discrimination against defendants.

Critics of cash bail have long argued that it discriminates against poorer defendants, and can cause people to lose their jobs and get evicted. The pilot program introduces a set of tools that use algorithms to measure a defendant's risk to the community. Those deemed to be low-risk would be released without bail.

But JusticeLA, a coalition of advocacy groups, wrote a letter to the supervisors opposing the pilot, arguing that numerous experts have argued that risk assessment tools are inherently discriminatory.


LA County DA Race: Rachel Rossi, The Public Defender

Rachel Rossi. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

Today on KPCC we’re profiling Rachel Rossi, one of the three candidates running for Los Angeles County District Attorney. The story kicks off a three-part series; tomorrow we profile Former San Francisco DA George Gascon and on Friday we meet incumbent DA Jackie Lacey.

The DA race is drawing national attention; it’s the latest chapter in a national push to elect reformist DA’s across the U.S.

Rossi, 36, grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and worked as a local and federal public defender before jumping into the DA race. She’s positioning herself as a reformer, vowing to work to end what she calls over-policing of communities of color.

Rossi says her focus will be on putting fewer people in prison. Towards that end, she would end cash bail, fully decriminalize homelessness and prosecute far fewer misdemeanors.

Listen to the profile:


It’s Wednesday, Feb. 12 And Here Are The Stories We’re Following Today


Today we bring you a very special report on California's housing crisis. Here's more from executive editor Megan Garvey:

In many respects, all but the wealthiest Southern Californians are stuck -- priced out of buying or moving, or in the worst cases, having a roof to sleep under at all. In some cases they're stuck living with bedbugs or roaches or rats and sewage spills because they can't afford anything else.

Many of the tenants who endure these issues all have one thing in common: a management company, PAMA Management, and a landlord, Mike Nijjar, with a long track record of frequent evictions and health and safety violations.

The story today from investigative reporter Aaron Mendelson is just the start of a yearlong effort by our newsroom to examine what life is like inside California's housing crisis. We hope you'll give it your attention.

Now, here's what else we're...

Covering Today:

  • L.A. County has approved a new pilot project that seeks to reform the cash bail system, offering defendants bail-free release if they're deemed "low-risk." Reporter Sharon McNary will explain the project -- and why critics say this approach to risk assessment perpetuates systemic racism.
  • McNary will also be heading to cover a homeless encampment cleanup at Echo Park Lake, where protesters will be turning out to support some 60 people who have taken up residence there.
  • Reporter Emily Elena Dugdale will bring you the first of three profiles on the candidates running for L.A. County District Attorney.
  • And we'll be adding to our growing list of voter guides to help you prepare for the March 3 primary.
  • Plus, KPCC producer Emily Henderson will have a quick update on a crackdown on Airbnb and other short-term rentals in Joshua Tree.
  • And food contributor Caroline Pardilla will tell you where you can go to get a decent drink on Valentine's Day.

In Case You Missed It:

  • The first gorilla born at the L.A. Zoo in 20 years is a girl (and she's so adorable it's stupid).
  • The quarantine was lifted for the nearly 200 people stuck at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County for the past two weeks. They all got a clean bill of health

Help Us Cover Your Community:

  • Got something you’ve always wanted to know about Southern California and the people who call it home? Is there an issue you want us to cover? Ask us anything >>
  • Have a tip about news on which we should dig deeper? Let us know >>

The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft.