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Housing and Homelessness

LA Council Advances Tighter Oversight of Bass’ Homelessness Program — After Missing Accountability Reports

A man in a suit speaks into a microphone with the words "BLUMENFIELD" written on a name placard in front of him.
L.A. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield at a budget hearing he chaired on May 1, 2023.
(City of L.A. meeting video)
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L.A. Mayor Karen Bass is on track to get the $250 million she’s asked for to scale up her signature homelessness program Inside Safe. But there could be new strings attached.

Under a plan that now heads to the full council for approval, the mayor would no longer get all the money upfront for Inside Safe, her program offering motel rooms and services to unhoused Angelenos who are asked to leave encampments.

She’d have to present updates to the council about Inside Safe twice a month — showing how the money’s been spent, how she plans to spend it, and what’s happening with the program.

What happened in the vote today

Those reports would be required in order for her to continue to get funding, under the proposal approved unanimously Friday by the council’s budget committee.

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Watch the rerun
  • The committee meeting was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Friday, but was delayed until about 2 p.m..

    • You can watch the meeting back at this link.
    • Members of the public also were able to attend in person (at city hall) and speak during public comments.

The full council plans to vote on the proposal Thursday, with public comment heard the day before.

The move comes after LAist revealed that previously required transparency reports have not been provided to the council.

“We still haven’t gotten really clear, delineated metrics, plans associated with the first 50 [million dollars]” set aside in January for Inside Safe, said Councilmember Monica Rodriguez at the committee’s final budget hearing Friday.

About the new proposal

The new proposal — put forward by the committee’s chair, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield — would also give the council veto power over the funding stream. The mayor would have access to the next $66 million of the funds upfront. And each time the account gets below $25 million, it would be automatically replenished — but the council would have the option to stop that on a majority vote.

For the program’s initial $50 million budget, the City Council required transparency reports every two weeks — showing how many people have been sheltered and where the money is going.

But LAist revealed that the biweekly reports haven’t been provided since they were unanimously ordered by the council back in January.

Bass asked the council for another $250 million for Inside Safe as part of her proposed city budget.

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That money should have more oversight from the council, Blumenfield said.

This is a tremendous amount of money that is going to address homelessness. And people need to know not only how was it spent, but how will it be spent.
— Bob Blumenfield, L.A. city councilmember

Specifically, he told LAist he wants to require the mayor to present the council with more detailed plans for the money before she can spend it.

“The public has a right to know, and we have an obligation as a city to make sure the public is aware of how their tax dollars are being spent,” he said in an interview this week, adding that the mayor shares his goal of greater transparency.

Blumenfield also wants to see faster accounting records and data on outcomes — like how many people remain housed in the long-term after joining Inside Safe.

The mayor's pushback

Late Friday, the mayor's office provided this statement about the day's activities:

“The Mayor and her team are in the process of reviewing the actions taken by the City Council Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee. This is a step in a multi-step process and the Mayor looks forward to continuing her work with the City Council to urgently bring Angelenos inside. The Mayor is confident that the collaboration with the City Council established over the past 5 months will continue.”

The mayor previously pushed back on Blumenfield’s proposal to require more council approvals, telling the L.A. Times it’d be a “throwback” to past times when the city lacked urgency in dealing with homelessness.

Bass told LAist she’s confident she and the budget committee will reach an agreement that allows her to move as quickly as she needs to on homelessness.

From all the discussions that I've had with the chairman, we will come to a very nice compromise that allows the mayor's office to move forward with the urgency that we need to have in order to address the city's number one crisis.
— Karen Bass, L.A. mayor

“The chairman of the budget committee and the committee members have all been working in very close partnership with the mayor's office, and I anticipate that continuing,” the mayor said in a recorded statement.

“From all the discussions that I've had with the chairman, we will come to a very nice compromise that allows the mayor's office to move forward with the urgency that we need to have in order to address the city's number one crisis.”

‘The public has a right to know’

Transparency and oversight are key to maintaining public trust, Blumenfield told LAist in an interview this week.

“This is a tremendous amount of money that is going to address homelessness. And people need to know not only how was it spent, but how will it be spent. And so that's part of what we're making sure is baked into this [budget plan], is that accountability mechanism for the public.”

The extra $250 million for Inside Safe is by far Bass’ largest proposed increase in homelessness spending, according to her budget documents.

“The Mayor must have the means and flexibility to address this crisis; while at the same time, Council must maintain our role in oversight on something of this financial scale and importance,” McOsker said.

Councilmember says missing transparency reports were ‘a big problem’

The missing transparency reports for the first $50 million — first reported on by LAist — were “a big problem,” said Blumenfield, the budget committee chair.

“That’s something I raised with the mayor’s office and with others,” he told LAist.

“It can't be the way that we move forward,” he added.

Blumenfield said he’s been talking with the mayor and her team, and that they also are interested in more transparency going forward.

But there’s been debate in recent days between the mayor and key councilmembers about whether Bass should have to come back for more council approval to spend Inside Safe money, as Blumenfield has proposed.

Bass told the L.A. Times it would slow down progress by returning the city to the “lack of urgency” it had on addressing homelessness in the past.

Blumenfield said the council is operating with a “huge sense of urgency” and that it’s important to make sure money is well spent — “especially in a city where we've had a number of issues over the last couple of years about transparency and the lack thereof and issues with corruption.”

At Friday’s budget hearing, Blumenfield said the mayor supported the compromise he put forward.

What the city’s online checkbook shows

Over four months into the program, only $400,000 in spending has been detailed from the $50 million account the city council set aside for Inside Safe, according to the city’s online records.

Blumenfield said there’s been much more spending than that — “closer to $50 million,” and that it needs to be disclosed to the public more quickly.

“They need to know in more real-time,” he said of the spending.

Blumenfield also wants to see the mayor and council develop specific metrics to track things like how long people stay housed after joining Inside Safe and whether contractors are delivering what they agree to.

“You can't fix what you can't measure,” he said. “So it's really important that we measure the right things.”

What questions do you have about homelessness in Southern California?

Updated May 12, 2023 at 1:54 PM PDT
This story was updated to reflect the new start time of the committee meeting.
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