LA Homelessness an Unprecedented Challenge

This article was originally posted at Hub.com 

Los Angeles is facing an unprecedented challenge with more than 34,000 people suffering homelessness. The city is the latest municipality struggling to end the heartbreaking and vicious cycle in the face of residential and business opposition, high-housing costs and lack of available housing.

Over the past few years, the number of homeless has skyrocketed. In 2016, the count was an estimated 28,000. By 2017, the number topped 34,000, with Los Angeles County hitting 57,000, a spike of 23 percent from the previous year. The city has the highest number of “unsheltered” homeless people, living on sidewalks, in cars, campers and tents in the country. This year’s Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count numbers have not yet been released, but it’s expected to be higher.

A recent UC Irvine study found that the top causes of homelessness were unemployment, the high cost of housing and family problems, including domestic violence. Alcohol and drug abuse and mental health problems followed. It also found that it’s twice as expensive to care for a homeless person on the street as it is to get them into permanent supportive housing.

Mayor Eric Garcetti called homelessness “the moral issue of our time,” saying the city planned to “end homelessness once and for all.”

What Others Are Doing

In the face of such high numbers, Los Angeles is looking at what other municipalities have done.

San Diego and Houston, Texas, have pursued the “Housing First” concept, which prioritizes permanent housing and added services. At a recent meeting in San Diego, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said that approach and other programs dramatically reduced the number of homeless in her city.

She also said cities need to create specific solutions for each person, all of whom have their own individual problems, and not treat all as a group.  But she dismissed the idea of ending homelessness all together.

“You cannot end homeless,” Parker said. “You can manage it. It’s like a chronic disease, and there are new people falling into homelessness on a regular and repeat basis.”

Orange County has kicked off a campaign, called “United to End Homelessness.” Launched in February, it has brought together leaders from business, philanthropy, faith, and government. According to the Voice of OC, it’s aligned with an effort by Orange County’s association of cities to double the number of housing units with supportive services for homeless people – from 2,700 to 5,400 – within the next three years. It’s a similar approach that officials in Orlando, Florida took, which placed an estimated 3,400 homeless people into permanent housing during 2015, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In Seattle, Washington, the city was the first in the country to offer public land and funding to support permitted encampments.

According to a city report, “the model is successfully serving people who have been living outside in greenbelts, on the streets, in cars and in hazardous situations.” In addition, crime hasn’t spiked near encampments, and neighbors have come to accept them.

Part of the reason for the success is that people are not constantly moving. “In the past encampments, or tent cities, were only permitted to stay in one location for a 90-day period. The disruptive nature of the 90-day limit placed a burden on the encampment community,” the report said.

Despite the success, critics of official encampments say it wastes funds on ensuring the safety, security, and well-being of the people living within the encampments and prevents funding from being directed to supporting and creating permanent housing and service options.

“The formation of encampments does not represent an end to homelessness, and strategies that focus on making encampments an official part of the system for responding to homelessness can serve to distract communities from focusing on what is most important—connecting people experiencing homelessness to safe, stable, permanent housing,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Resources

Funding approved by voters will help Los Angeles. Proposition HHH will provide $1.2 billion in bond proceeds over a decade to build permanent housing, and Measure H will provide an estimated $3.5 billion over 10 years for rent subsidies and services. The expectation is that the funding will create or subsidize 15,000 housing units and pay for services to support those living in them. There is also an Assembly bill proposing $1.5 billion in budget state surplus money to address homelessness across the state.

Los Angeles City Council members are also pushing for each district to approve 222 units of homeless housing by the summer, though even if that figure is met and built, which is questionable, it is dwarfed by the units actually needed.

The city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee recently approved proposals to streamline the building of units for the homeless population and allow participating motels and hotels to be renovated and used for supportive and transitional housing. Both would need to be approved by the City Council.

“The bottom line is we have to accelerate our efforts to provide more long-term supportive housing and temporary, emergency housing,” said Councilman José Huizar. “The need is great on both ends and we simply must do more to meet that demand.”

Campaign Against “Not In My Backyard” Attitude

City officials say neighborhoods and community members throughout the far-flung city need to work together and accept that more homeless housing needs to be built throughout Los Angeles.

“We are not going to solve or even make a significant dent in homelessness unless we are all part of the solution,” said Councilman Mike Bonin. “All of us — every elected official, every part of the city, every demographic. It’s either all-hands-on-deck, or this ship is going to sink under the weight of this crisis.”

The city also plans to use public land, including parking lots and other places, as official, albeit temporary, homeless shelters. One pilot program will provide trailers as temporary shelter with services in a parking lot near the El Pueblo Historic Monument Downtown. That proposal has already met with swift opposition by residents.

Olvera Street vendors blasted the plan to put the trailers on a city-owned parking lot at Arcadia and Alameda streets for up to three years, according to published reports. Vendors complained that the homeless population would increase in the area and discourage tourists from visiting. They also questioned why trailers were not being placed in other areas.

As part of the campaign to get buy-in from community members, a United Way-led program, similar to Orange County, began on March 9 in Los Angeles. The “Everyone In” coalition will advocate for new housing and services for homeless people in their neighborhoods. Elise Buik, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, cited a recent survey showing that 70 percent of Los Angeles residents polled said they would support housing for the homeless in their neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of talk about NIMBYs (not in my backyard) but we want to start talking about YIMBYs (yes, in my backyard),” Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “Everyone In means we’re all responsible for this.”

City News Service contributed quotes to this article.

Teaching Children Prepared Blanca Rubio for CA Legislature

For Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, 16 years of teaching in elementary school prepared her for the California Legislature.

“The amount of learning you have to get through in a single day to understand the issues is crazy. If you’re not prepared for it, you could be overwhelmed,” said the West Covina Democrat in a recent interview about her first year in office. “Thankfully, I was a teacher. That’s the dynamic a teacher has to deal with every day. I’m used to it.”

Elected in 2016, her district includes Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bradbury, Industry, Covina, Duarte, El Monte, Glendora, Irwindale, Monrovia, West Covina, and unincorporated areas such as Bassett, Charter Oak, Citrus, East Arcadia, Ramona, Valinda and West La Puente.

With 20 years of elected office, serving on the Valley County Water Board and Baldwin Park Unified School District Board, she built many relationships in Sacramento over the years. But once elected to the Assembly, Rubio said, she met with every member in both houses to expand on those relationships. She also learned about issues that were important to Northern California members so that they could work together.

The results: six of Rubio’s bills were signed into law in her first year. During budget negotiations, she obtained millions of dollars for San Gabriel Valley transportation projects. This included $33.7 million for a pavement preservation project to add and upgrade lanes, guardrail and improve roads on the 605 freeway from the 10 to 210; $2.8 million to resurface parts of the 605 between El Monte and West Covina; and $2.9 million for a bridge project on Peck Road.

Chairwoman of the Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Domestic Violence, Rubio has authored bills that support victims of domestic violence, help children in foster care and assist immigrant communities.

In addition, Rubio and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, recently introduced a bill to combat the growing youth homelessness problem. The proposed legislation would use $60 million from the cannabis tax fund and general funds for rapid rehousing, rental assistance, transitional housing, shelters and other assistance for minors and youth.

It’s an issue that reminds her of why she ran for Assembly. She estimated that she had more than 500 students come through her classrooms, but it was two young girls, Alicia and Aveena, she remembers often. They had to overcome major obstacles to even get to school, let alone succeed, including being hungry. Once she realized they didn’t have any school supplies at home to complete assignments and put together a take-home box of pens, pencils and other items.

“I will tell you, I have a hard time asking for myself. But if I’m advocating for a cause, I can ask for anything,” she said, when discussing the challenges of running for office as a Latina and single mother of two as well as raising money from donors. So “why am I doing this? I’m advocating for the Alicias and Aveenas of the world. There are many kids just like them.”

She has also generated some criticism from liberal groups. The California Environmental Justice Alliance and the Courage Campaign essentially gave her C grades on her voting record.

Rubio said that while she was aligned with the groups’ goals, she didn’t agree with all of their legislative aims. She said she would continue to advocate for the residents and businesses of her district. It’s critical for businesses to stay in California, she added, because they pay the taxes that fund important programs.

While Rubio bristled at the description of her 2016 Assembly election being an “upset,” she said she knew she was going to win as did many community members, she acknowledged that the lack of establishment endorsements in the campaign turned out to be a good thing.

“I can look at all sides of the issue” without worrying about being beholden to special interests, she said. She noted that the same qualities that helped her win elections, work in the Legislature. “They might have the money and the endorsements, but no one will ever outwork me.”

Published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune 

Ed Hernandez and the Lieutenant Governor Bully Pulpit

Ed Hernandez has begun a five-month sprint to the June primary for lieutenant governor. But why?

Ed_hernandezThe 60-year-old West Covina state Senate Democrat has more than a decade of California legislative accomplishments behind him, a prosperous San Gabriel Valley optometry business, a daughter who has entered politics and grandchildren. As for the lieutenant governor job, the current occupant derides it as a ceremonial post with no real authority.

But Hernandez disagrees.

“I believe lieutenant governor is the most important constitutional office in the state of California, outside of the governor, and I think previous lieutenant governors haven’t taken advantage of that,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to take all those years of legislative experience and business experience into that office and make something of it.”

First elected to the Assembly in 2006, Hernandez won a seat in the state Senate in 2010. As chairman of the health committee, he was one of the primary architects behind the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California. Recently, he took on Big Pharma by passing a groundbreaking transparency law to help combat the skyrocketing and unsustainable prices of prescription medicine in California.

As an optometrist, he knows how important health care access is and how difficult it can be for some. He supports the goal of universal health care, but says there needs to be the political will to take on difficult choices:

“The real, true conversations are about market reform, and how do we control cost. The second is our two-tiered health care system, where poor people don’t have access to healthcare, and wealthy people do. Those are the conversations we have to have.”

The political climate has been especially contentious lately. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez said the anger in the Latino community reminds him of when Prop. 187, which he fought against, was approved. The 1994 proposition cut off state services, including health care and public education, to those in the country illegally. It was later overturned.

“I’ve never seen so much political activism. I started traveling the state to talk to people about the Affordable Care Act, and there were hundreds and thousands of people showing up at town halls,” he said. “And we had done town halls before that, for Covered California, and you would get maybe at most 100. Now, these were packed houses, in gyms and high schools. There is a lot of anger out there, but also among the Latino communities and population.”

An unprecedented number of strong minority candidates are on the ballot, he noted. If all win — Antonio Villaraigosa, running for governor; Kevin de León, for U.S. Senate; Xavier Becerra, for attorney general; Ricardo Lara, for insurance commissioner; Fiona Ma, for state treasurer; and Betty Yee and Alex Padilla, running for re-election as state controller and secretary of state — all the offices would be non-white for the first time ever in California.

“I’m predicting that you are going to see a large voter turnout of Latinos that could propel these candidates to higher office,” he said.

Hernandez also said he expects that the current movement exposing and ending sexual misconduct in California, and across the country and industries, will change the culture forever.

“No one, male or female, should ever be subjected to any kind of inappropriate advances, and no one should take advantage of an individual because they have some type of influence over them for any inappropriate reason,” he said.

If Hernandez wins, in eight years, he would still be younger than Jerry Brown when he ran for governor in 2010. Would the La Puente native run for an office that has more “real authority”?

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “Right now, I’m totally concentrating to be the next lieutenant governor and supporting whoever our next governor’s going to be.”

Published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Los Angeles Daily News and Pasadena Star-News

SGV Senate Seat Money Hunt

It costs, on average, $1.1 million to win a seat in the California Senate, according to Maplight.org. As of the reporting period ending in 2017 for the San Gabriel Valley race to replace Sen. Ed Hernandez, Mike Eng has $1.156 million; Susan Rubio $306,000; everyone else either has dropped out (Vicky Martinez) or not reported any contributions (Monica Garcia, Michael Adams, Ruben Sierra). The only other money in the race is in a fund controlled by disgraced Roger Hernandez. I hear he’s chasing the cannabis train, but who knows.

UPDATE: This is cash on hand. The candidates have spent some of the money they have raised.

Candidates Circling State Sen. Mendoza, Central Basin Generosity

Montebello mayor says she is ‘seriously considering’ run against embattled Sen. Tony Mendoza

With state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) on a leave of absence pending a sexual harassment probe, Montebello Mayor Vanessa Delgado said Tuesday that one reason she is considering a possible election challenge to the incumbent is that there is no one standing up for the Senate district with him absent.

Other names being bandied about for SD 32 (the southern part of SGV) are former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, Cerritos College trustee Sandra Salazar, and Angela Acosta-Salazar, a former Rio Hondo Community College trustee. March 4 is the filing deadline, unless Mendoza either resigns or doesn’t run again. Then the deadline is March 9.

He worked at a water district for just seven days. But it ended up costing $1.5 million

By last fall, Beilke had found work at a company that operates a solar farm in El Mirage in the Mojave Desert. It’s run by a former Central Basin executive.

His job involved finding local governments willing to do business.

Latinos, Misconduct and a San Gabriel Valley Senate Race

It’s early in the 2018 political season, but not too early to ask if the tumultuous climate at the state Capitol and energized Latinos in an age of Trump will decide who may win the San Gabriel Valley Senate seat to replace Ed Hernandez. Hernandez is term-limited out and running for lieutenant governor.

Without an incumbent, these races are usually about local issues, endorsements, who has the most campaign money and who knocks on the most doors. But this season will be different.

California Latino and Latino voters should be motivated to vote in numbers that reflect their majority. And the eruption of sexual misconduct allegations in the Legislature, and across the country, could create a “Year of the Woman” movement in California politics, but also may turn voters off disgusted by the misdeeds.

Some candidates are already considered frontrunners for the 22nd Senate District seat that includes Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Rosemead, El Monte, South El Monte, Baldwin Park, Irwindale, Industry, La Puente, West Covina, Azusa, Covina, Temple City, Arcadia and surrounding neighborhoods.

Former Assemblyman Mike Eng, term-limited out in 2012, has long been viewed as the odds-on favorite to win. Married to Congresswoman Judy Chu, Eng, a former Monterey Park councilman and recently an LA Community College District trustee, has long-standing ties with local and state officials and raised more than $1 million in campaign money.

Among his many endorsements are high-profile names that include Sen. Hernandez, current Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, former state Senate leader Kevin de León, now running for U.S. Senate, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Solis is especially important because of her connection to the SGV Latino community. This is a critical base for Eng, a Chinese-American in a district with a small Asian population, who will need crossover votes to win in majority Latino district.

Susan RubioBaldwin City Councilwoman Susan Rubio may prove to be the most formidable candidate in an unprecedented era for woman in politics and an energized Latino base. The strong candidacies of Ed Hernandez and Antonio Villaraigosa, running for governor, may also help.

An elementary school teacher, Rubio was first elected in 2005 as Baldwin Park city clerk. Since 2009, she has served on the council. She has $135,000 in her campaign fund and her endorsements include Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the state’s Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus and numerous state Senate and local officials.

But she has also emerged as the state Legislature is engulfed in accusations of blatant sexual harassment and abuse. Elected officials have been forced to resign with others expected, and women leaders have condemned the “pervasive” culture of misconduct.

Unfortunately, Rubio has experience confronting similar behavior. In 2016, Rubio, in highly publicized court documents, said that her then-husband, former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, had been violently abusing her. She obtained a restraining order and later divorced him. He later lost a congressional bid.

In addition, if she needs any advice on how to beat a party favorite, she just has to call up her sister, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, who beat a candidate with major endorsements in the 2016 primary.

The tumult in the Capitol has nothing to do with Eng but he may be hurt if voters demand more female political representation.

In addition, while Eng has the state experience, financial strength and endorsements, winning in a majority Latino district in this election may be a challenge. Yet he can look at another candidate’s history for guidance as well – his wife’s.

Chu beat a Latino candidate in a similar district to win a seat to congress in 2009, albeit a special election. That district closely matched the 22nd.

As I said, it’s early. Also in the race are Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Monica Garcia, El Monte Councilwoman Victoria Martinez, union organizer Ruben Sierra and Michael Adams. The landscape could change.

Published in the Pasadena Star News

San Gabriel Valley Senate Seat Up for Grabs

The prevailing wisdom is that former Assemblyman Mike Eng, husband of party favorite Congresswoman Judy Chu, is the frontrunner and the party anointed successor to Ed Hernandez for state Senate District 22 seat.

But while Eng still has a large money advantage, other strong candidates, especially Baldwin City Councilwoman Susan Rubio, have announced.

Rubio, the ex-wife of former (and disgraced) Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, has ridden the rising tide of women fighting back against sexual harassment and also reined in endorsements.That, and an overwhelming Latino voter advantage, could help her in the 2018 election. Also helping is that her sister, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, has a track record of beating the prevailing wisdom.

2010 Census Demographics for SD22

 

Asian

Black

Latino

Citizen Voting-Age Population

2.0%

31.4%

44.1%

Total Population

1.7%

31.8%

53.4%

Campaign Finance and Declared Candidates 

ADAMS, MICHAEL L.

Nothing Reported

NO PARTY PREFERENCE

Eng, Michael

$1,084,951.21

DEMOCRATIC

Trustee, LA Community College District

Garcia, Raquel “Monica

Nothing Reported

DEMOCRATIC

Councilwoman, Baldwin Park

Hernandez, Roger

$128,731 (Assembly/Senate)

DEMOCRATIC

Not Running…

Martinez, Victoria

$47,046

DEMOCRATIC

Councilwoman,     El Monte

Rubio, Susan

$135,843

DEMOCRATIC

Councilwoman, Baldwin Park

SIERRA, RUBEN

Nothing Reported

DEMOCRATIC

Union organizer

 

 

 

A Missed Pension Story in Monrovia?

When people talk government pension details, eyes roll back. But the latest at Calpensions.com on Monrovia is interesting – and frightening – for a few reasons. The city’s current unfunded liability is $112 million. This, by the way, in a city of 36,000.

Here’s a show stopper:

“In fact, if we do nothing, current financial modeling indicates that the costs associated with the pending CalPERS UAL repayment schedule will strain our General Fund to the point of rendering the City insolvent in either FY 2021/22 or FY 2022/23.”

Despite this, the city’s plan has no staff or service cuts. Employees took a minor pay cut across the board, but the larger bite will be paid with a bond, which the city will have to pay back with interest. And more taxes. One potential stumbling block:

But in a system that expects to pay 60 percent of future pension costs with a risky stock-laden investment portfolio, a plunge in a record-high market could quickly add new debt.”

Have to wonder what the rest of the cities in the San Gabriel Valley are facing. 

You should read the whole scary story:  https://calpensions.com/2017/11/27/one-citys-struggle-with-mounting-calpers-costs/

Rose Bowl `Secret’ Report Unforced Error

It’s never the crime, always the “secret report.”

While the only crime here could be to taxpayers, despite Pasadena officials promises to the contrary, the city seems to be ignoring the usual rule of public relations: When bad news comes, get it out, regardless of what the lawyers say. Politicians will pay the political price while attorneys continue to collect their billable hours anyway if they hide it.

It’s simple: Don’t let the media frame the bad news before you can. The media usually will find out anyway, and it will focus on the agency that should be open and transparent rather than the alleged guilty party.

In this case, the ire is being directed at Pasadena and the ever-expanding Rose Bowl renovation project cost.

Reporter Brenda Gazzar revealed how a “secret report” details how the original projected budget, which was pegged at $152 million, should have been higher, closer to $200 million, and that project team officials should have known it. The lower number was the one touted to the public in 2010.

This should hardly be a surprise to anyone. Critics have pointed out that the overreaching and unrealistic expectations were coupled with underestimated cost projections since the project was first unveiled.

So, shocker, a third-party review agreed. The reaction from Pasadena is “pay no attention to that report. We know everything about it but can’t show it to you.”

Pasadena officials, including Mayor Bill Bogaard, are hiding behind questionable legal interpretations and are just making the situation worse. The mayor even said that the report will be released once litigation linked to the renovations is “ruled out.” What happens if litigation is not ruled out? Will the report be made public then?

No offense to the mayor, but the California Public Records Act decides what has to be made public and when, not the mayor of Pasadena.

Open government advocates Terry Francke and Gil Aguirre have already pointed out that the city’s position is shaky at best, deceptive at worst. Francke points out that the city’s position that the report is exempt because it’s litigation “work product” is a ruse to keep it from being made public. Aguirre notes that the report’s original purpose was based on concerns of how things were being run. To now claim it’s part of the litigation process, said Aguirre, is “absurd.”

City Councilman Victor Gordo, president of the Rose Bowl Operating Company, created an ad hoc committee that instigated the report. (Note that ad hoc committees are exempt from following state open meeting laws.)

He said, without a hint of sarcasm, that the project was “well planned.”

Coming after news in December that Pasadena Unified School District’s construction project is a mess, I’m not sure that Pasadena residents would agree anyone in Pasadena government can ever plan a construction project well.

But have no fear, Gordo found a silver lining: “… these aren’t overruns.”

Right. The cost overruns will be detailed in the next secret report.

Originally posted in the Pasadena Star News

Pasadena Press Release Superhero

Taking my cue from the public information office of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I’m announcing in a press release that I saved ten hikers, two lost puppies and a cute cat in Eaton Canyon Saturday – all before I had breakfast.

Before those sleepy Pasadena firefighters started flipping their morning pancakes, I had helicoptered solo, rappelled tall mountains, composed a concerto, and scooped up those (almost) lost souls to save another day. Being a press release hero is tough business, I tell you.

I began this hero stuff after learning from the county that I don’t have to actually do it to get credit for it.

Last week, the sheriff’s department issued a press release about hikers who were injured in Eaton Canyon. According to the press release, one severely injured woman was rescued by the Altadena Search and Rescue team and then airlifted to a local hospital by a county Fire Department helicopter. County fire paramedics treated another injured hiker.

Except, that wasn’t what happened.

Pasadena city firefighters hiked into the canyon with the search and rescue team and hiked out with the severely injured victim, who was taken in a city ambulance to the hospital. Since the accident occurred after dark, county fire officials declined to use its helicopter.

Emails from a Pasadena firefighter surfaced in this paper detailing the rescue. After a condescending county spokesman responded by refusing to get involved in a spat with a `smaller agency,’ county Supervisor Michael Antonovich ordered an investigation into the differing accounts.

In a move that might have caused severe whiplash, the now-enlightened spokesman later noted the press release “misstated some facts. He apologized for the “errors” and said that county Sheriff Lee Baca intends to conduct an “examination” of department policies. (As if the beleaguered sheriff needs another controversy in his life.) Antonovich’s spokesman said there was no “intent to misinform.”

Well, maybe. And maybe not.

The emails from the Pasadena fire captain that first pointed out the truth also said that it wasn’t the first time. Pasadena city fire spokeswoman Lisa Derderian told reporter Brian Charles that “in the past, they have taken credit” and made it look like they did things single-handedly.

The root of the problem may be a scarcity of resources, reported the paper. In an age where government funding is declining, cornering all the credit and the public acclaim that comes with it bolsters a department’s next funding request.

This is not a dig at any first responders, fire or police, most of whom do an admirable job under usually dangerous conditions. But sometimes it’s just easier taking the credit. Who is going to complain, and who’s going to listen?

I remember a few years ago, a plane had crashed in Upland. A California Highway Patrol report highlighted its quick response to the crash and praised its officers in helping to rescue three passengers. There was no record of any civilian helping. But a civilian had helped and was on the scene first.

An Upland firefighter called me to make sure I knew that a civilian potentially saved these people while putting himself in great harm. I wrote the story. Firefighters. Always trying to make sure the right people get the credit.

Originally posted in the Pasadena Star News