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“It’s outlandish” — UCLA Lewis Center Legitimizes Anti-Homeless Politics With Their Latest Hire

Shane Phillips served LA elites and their efforts to criminalize unhoused people as Policy Director at the Central City Association.

The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, a research institution based out of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, has hired Shane Phillips to run a new program focused on housing policy.

Shane Phillips spent the previous 2+ years (April 2017 to June 2019) as the Policy Director for the Central City Association (CCA), one of the most aggressively anti-homeless institutions in Los Angeles. CCA is made up of the largest landowners and investors in Downtown LA and has been perhaps the most powerful actor pushing for the criminalization and displacement of unhoused and otherwise extremely poor people living in Skid Row. Skid Row’s population is 72% Black.

Pete White, Executive Director of LA Community Action Network (LA CAN), a grassroots organization based in Skid Row, told me over email: “It’s outlandish that UCLA would lend credibility to the housing expertise of a former CCA Policy Director given their decades of experience calling for the criminalization of houseless people; removal of services; and attempts to block the production of affordable housing in DTLA.”

The Lewis Center has sent a terrible message about what sort of experience and expertise they welcome: you can devote your life to serving the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in Los Angeles, advocating for the criminalization and banishment of the overwhelmingly Black population of Skid Row, and still be rewarded with a prestigious gig at UCLA.

A Brief History of the Central City Association

The Central City Association, created in 1924 as the Downtown Business Men’s Association, has long been “among the most powerful forces behind [Downtown LA’s] development,” according to Andrea Gibbons, author of the recently published book City of Segregation. CCA’s board is stacked with representatives from LA’s major real estate and financial firms, including JW Marriott, Bank of America, AEG, Gilmore Associates, and so on.

(The information below, when not otherwise sourced, comes from City of Segregation. I highly recommend it.)

In 2002, CCA shifted from a long-standing policy advocating the “containment” of Skid Row to one calling for its “dispersal.” Downtown was “on the cusp of an urban renaissance,” in CCA’s words, and, as Gibbons puts it, higher property values and levels of investment depended on the “removal of poor people of color.”

That year, CCA released a report titled “Downtown’s Human Tragedy: It’s Not Acceptable Anymore,” in which they utilized racial stereotypes linking Blackness to criminality to classify huge portions of the Skid Row community as, in their words, “Service Resistant Addicted (SRAs), Mentally Ill, Panhandlers, Parolees, Drug Dealers, and Other Criminals.” The report spoke of the need to “take back our streets” from those who live in encampments.

CCA recommended the city disperse homeless services throughout the city and create, and then aggressively enforce, a number of laws criminalizing encampments, panhandling, and other modes of survival.

A few years earlier, CCA played a crucial role in forming the first two business improvement districts (BIDs) in Downtown. BIDs are governed and financed by local property owners, and are, according to a team of UC Berkeley researchers, fundamentally anti-homeless institutions. Until 2016, the CEO of CCA and the head of the Downtown Center BID were the same person, Carol Schatz.

As the relationships between the CCA and the LAPD and other city officials deepened, their efforts really paid off in 2006 with the creation of the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI), a program providing 50 additional cops and other enhanced criminalization measures to Skid Row. During the first year of the program, the city made “9,000 arrests [in Skid Row] and issued about 12,000 citations (primarily for crosswalk violations),” according to an analysis by UCLA School of Law Professor Gary Blasi. Sociologist Alex Vitale estimates the city spent $150–200 million on SCI over the first 4 years.

The history presented by Gibbons makes clear that the CCA, working in tandem with a similar group, the Central City East Association (CCEA), served as the vanguard of the politics of criminalization and banishment. There’s perhaps no single institution in LA more responsible for the most inhumane aspects of how the city treats unhoused people than the Central City Association.

Central City Association During Shane Phillips’ Tenure

But that might as well be ancient history, right? At the very least, it was before Shane Phillips arrived.

But CCA has continued the exact same politics up through the present. There is no evidence at all suggesting Shane Phillips challenged business as usual at CCA.

CCA is still consistently the go-to source for journalists looking for supporters of enhanced criminalization of unhoused people — though it’s never stated so bluntly, of course. See, for example, here, here, and here.

Here’s a CCA press release from June 2019 lamenting a “broken legal framework” that “tie[s] the City’s hands” and “allows for unlimited goods in the public right-of-way.” In other words: the system is broken because there are too many laws preventing the city from arresting unhoused people and taking their belongings.

Here’s CCA in 2018 urging the city not to settle a lawsuit, Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles, after a federal judge raised concerns that the city’s confiscation of unhoused people’s property violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments. A settlement would be “devastating” and would result in the “further densification of the Downtown homeless population,” according to CCA. Here they are sending a letter to City Council President Herb Wesson making the same arguments.

Here’s CCA in 2017 formally lobbying against the creation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council, a grassroots effort by members of that community to gain some minimal amount of state-recognized power. Shane Phillips was one of CCA’s registered lobbyists on this.

(And here’s CCA in 2018 opposing Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would’ve allowed for stronger rent control in California cities.)

CCA isn’t afraid to shell out cash to have their priorities realized. While this money concerns a variety of issues that CCA advocates for, according to numbers from the LA City Ethics Commission, CCA spent at least $416,110 on lobbying during Shane Phillips’ tenure (2017 Q2 through 2019 Q2).

One of CCA’s last payments before Phillips’ departure was $21,011 given to a private law firm to support their fight against Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles.

Shane Phillips was the Policy Director throughout all of this.

In rewarding Mr. Phillips with a top research position, the Lewis Center has legitimized the reactionary, pro-corporate, anti-homeless politics of the CCA. This displays a severe lapse in judgment and a total lack of accountability to LA’s most vulnerable communities.