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Even Local Officials Are Fighting On Facebook About Homelessness

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Last week, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino accused neighboring cities of enforcing "unconstitutional laws... to push people experiencing homelessness out of a town and across the border into Los Angeles."

The councilmen filed a motion calling on the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, city attorney's office and other relevant offices to investigate fellow cities' compliance with a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling out of Boise, Idaho last September. They also asked the city attorney's office to explore legal actions in an effort to compel fellow cities to quickly build more homeless shelters amid a worsening crisis.

In that court ruling, federal judges said homeless people cannot be forced off the streets if cities are not providing shelter as an alternative. But while L.A. has taken steps to comply with the ruling, Buscaino and Bonin said many neighboring cities have not -- and that's creating an even bigger burden on L.A.

"As long as people gravitate towards Los Angeles streets at night to sleep -- regardless of where they spend their day or where they originate -- the people and the taxpayers of Los Angeles are going to have higher and increasing obligations to address homelessness," Bonin said.

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Bonin pointed to Culver City as one example of an L.A. border city that keeps its side of Venice Boulevard clear while, just across the street, tents blanket L.A.'s side. Buscaino called back to a video showing county sheriff's deputies dropping a homeless man off in San Pedro after picking him up in upscale Rancho Palos Verdes.

John Nachbar, city manager for Culver City, told LAist police there are "definitely not" pushing homeless people into L.A. Sheriff's officials denied Buscaino's accusation they dumped that homeless man in L.A. when that video first circulated in January.

The contention with other cities has also played out online. Late last month, Buscaino went Facebook fisticuffs with Torrance City Councilman Aurelio Mattucci, trading jabs over what their respective cities are and aren't doing to address homelessness.

It started with a photo post from Mattucci featuring a tent in front of a Torrance business. The councilman wrote that he would take action "to keep Torrance looking like Torrance should, not LA." Buscaino didn't take too kindly to that.

(Screengrab courtesy Facebook)

"Clearly I was pissed off," the L.A. councilman told LAist this week. "My question to the councilmember -- who I respect -- was: 'what are you doing as a city to address the individual in that tent?'"

"His solution is pushing the problem over to my side of the street," Buscaino added, "and then pointing the finger, poking in our eyes that [conditions are] horrible."

Mattucci fired back on Facebook, saying Los Angeles "has completely failed at the Homeless (crisis)" and is "infested with vagrants."

"I use LA often as a comparison because it's only getting worse as we are just enabling drug addicts to roam the streets freely when in fact they belong in jail and ultimately in rehab," he commented back to Buscaino. "My solution is to replace the legislators that protect vagrants more than the hard working majority."

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READ MORE: LA Counts Its Homeless, But Counting Everybody Is Virtually Impossible

Asked this week about the squabble, Mattucci told LAist that Buscaino is right about Torrance not having a homeless shelter. The city does, however, provide section 8 vouchers and has affordable housing, including several dozen units for low-income retirees, he said.

Mattucci, who was elected to his council seat last June, said he "can guarantee" that, in the past, Torrance pushed homeless people across the city border and into Los Angeles, but said that's not happening now. The councilman said his city's homeless population has roughly doubled in the past two years, which he argued is evidence that the movement of homeless people is actually the opposite of what Buscaino and Bonin allege.

"It's not our responsibility to take care of Los Angeles' problems, because Los Angeles failed over and over and over again for many, many years," Mattucci said. "And now the problem's gotten so big, that they are actually pushing people out of their city, into our community."

"Wow," Buscaino said after being informed of Mattucci's comments. Buscaino cited the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count report, released last week, which showed that roughly 82% of the countywide increase in homelessness came from the city of L.A. alone, evidence he said backed up his and Bonin's accusation that other cities are pushing people in.

"Clearly, the councilmember needs to be educated and I'm willing to sit down with him," Buscaino said. "I'm willing to actually offer my staff to him to explain the processes that are associated with solving the homeless problem."

(AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images)

The District 15 councilman, who represents L.A. neighborhoods including Watts, Wilmington and San Pedro, expressed frustration over what he sees as a lack of motivation among other South Bay cities to address the homelessnes crisis. Recently, that led him to step down from a homelessness task force he chaired as a member of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

"When I committed to my district, as all the councilmembers have in the city of L.A., to [build] 222 supportive units for homeless individuals, I asked in that task force, with municipal leaders from the South Bay cities: ...'Anyone in this room can match the 222 supportive units,'" Buscaino said. "All I heard was crickets."

"We need to treat this as a humanitarian crisis," Buscaino said. "And the city of L.A. can't do it alone."

READ MORE: What Happened With LA's Emergency Shelter Plan? Expectations Met Reality

One idea Buscaino floated to coerce neighboring cities to quickly expand homeless services is calling on Sacramento to withhold state grants and transportation funds. Mattucci was skeptical that would work out in L.A.'s favor.

"We're not going to be bullied around by the city of Los Angeles [when L.A.] has failed," he said. "If they had a program that actually worked, then I'd say, 'Hey, let's follow that program.' This is like the blind leading the blind."

"I want to deal with the [homeless residents in Torrance]," Mattucci said. "I want them all to be into programs, I want them all... put into housing. I want them all being reunited with their lost family members. I want to put the effort to fix the problem, not a band-aid approach, because that's what we're doing right now."

The Bonin-Buscaino proposal now moves to the L.A. City Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee for consideration.