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Here’s What You Missed Last Week at LA City Council

Police state: the LA City Council approved enforcing 41.18 and a $250,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security for an LAPD-run anti-terrorist program.

city council recap featured image collage
Art by Sandra Markarian for Knock LA

Every week, Knock LA provides live coverage of Los Angeles City Council meetings from our Twitter account. While you can follow along live, we’ve also put together this breakdown of what’s happening at the highest levels of power in our city for those who don’t have 12 hours a week to spend on City Council meetings (including regularly absent city councilmembers).

LA City Council Meeting 3/8/22

As you know, we are living through a mass death and mass disabling event. The pandemic, I’m sorry to say, isn’t over. Even if we weren’t seeing hundreds of weekly COVID-19 deaths in LA (which we are), we still face the economic and emotional repercussions of COVID-19.

In the early days, when stores and offices closed, some wondered whether COVID-19 could force us to care more about protecting one another than protecting the economy. Those working for grocery stores, delivery services, and hospitals likely did not feel optimistic. While the city didn’t do nearly enough to protect people, it did pass a number of convoluted but supportive emergency ordinances.

Councilmember Joe Buscaino wants us to move on. He asked the city to draw up a report of every action taken as a result of the pandemic so we can start wrapping this thing up. The city presented that list on March 8, and it includes protections against price-gouging, evictions, increased rent, and the city’s destruction of unhoused peoples’ tents, i.e. their homes (that one obviously didn’t stick).

Enforcement of 41.18 (criminalization of homelessness) in CD 7 was also on the agenda the following day, and several members of the public voiced anger and disapproval. By approving 41.18 alongside luxury developments, commenters said, the city (especially Buscaino) pushes people from their homes to the streets, and then from the streets to their deaths. 

Before the March 8 meeting, several people and organizations submitted public comments online. Individuals told the council, “You need to allow the homeless to shelter where they need to shelter” and “The lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles is the REAL threat to public safety, not unhoused people.”

Nonprofits PATH, Community Clinic Association of LA County, LA Family Housing, and St. Joseph’s Center didn’t outright condemn 41.18, but they said it should at least be postponed until the city completes the outreach and engagement that was supposed to precede 41.18’s displacement. The organizations said the city is failing to fund its planned street engagement policy, making it “impossible” for engagement teams to keep up with the pace of enforcement.

Those street outreach teams might encourage unhoused people to live in a “Safe Sleep Village,” which is a government-sanctioned and -surveilled tent encampment. (The one in Rampart Village lasted eight months, spent $2,140 per person per month, and evicted a quarter of its “guests” before closing for good.) Or they might encourage people to stay in pallet shelters, which are 64 square feet and may house one or two people. For comparison, a standard single-occupancy prison cell is supposed to be at least 70 square feet if a person spends over 10 hours in it, according to American Correctional Association standards.

Item 4 approved spending federal COVID-19 relief funds on these and other shelter or housing projects. Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council wrote in to support the item, saying the motion included plans to streamline the use of pallet shelters. They said that while cities like Sonoma, Riverside, Santa Cruz, and Seattle spend around $10,000-12,000 per unit on pallet shelters, Los Angeles spends $130,000 per unit.

As Angelenos have lost jobs and loved ones who were financial providers, many have fallen into debt with utility companies. About a half million people face LADWP debts, with a total of $827 million of debt racked up since the start of the pandemic. Mayor Garcetti says about $300 million of that was relieved by state and federal programs.

According to the authors of motion 7 (City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember Kevin de León), the city charter “prevents mass debt relief or writing off debt,” and Propositions 218 and 26 “restrict the agency from using its own funds to subsidize customers.” The motion calls for research into how the city can find other ways to support residents.

The city is also moving forward (slowly) on an unarmed crisis response team modeled off a program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS. Several commenters supported item 32 (a status update and request for proposals for the response team). Commenters said that one out of four people shot by LAPD were having a mental health crisis and cops shouldn’t have been involved.

The meeting concluded with the passage of a motion condemning Vladmir Putin and calling for divestment from Russian companies because of their horrific attacks on Ukrainians.

Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield said the issue was personal to them because their ancestors fled anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine. They didn’t explain how that relates to Ukraine today, where the military’s Azov Battalion are neo-Nazis with a Black Sun logo referencing the Third Reich. (The US Senate debated and decided it’s fine to send military aid to neo-Nazis in Ukraine.)

(Three months ago, Koretz and Blumenfield denounced the Palestinian-led campaign to divest from Israel as discriminatory and antisemitic. They introduced a motion to punish Ben & Jerry’s for their decision to cease production sales in Israeli-occupied West Bank, accusing the ice cream company of “economic warfare.”)

O’Farrell condemned the Russian targeting of apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals, and emphasized that we can divest from Russia and still respect the Russian community here and abroad.

Here’s a list of mutual aid-oriented humanitarian projects in Ukraine.

LA City Council Meeting 3/9/22

Despite an outpouring of community disapproval, the city council voted to apply for and accept a $250,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security for LAPD to run an anti-terrorism program that opponents say is dangerously dependent on racial profiling.

The program has gone through several name changes: Recognizing Extremist Network Early Warnings (RENEW), Providing Alternatives to Hinder Extremism (PATHE), Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP), and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). 

Two-thirds of the grant money will go right to police officers at an overtime rate. With the rationale that “terrorism” is more of a mental health problem than a political one, there’s also a $75,000 collaboration with the LA County Department of Mental Health.

The program’s own materials show a graph indicating that white supremacy is the most common affiliation of terrorists — alongside images of “terrorists,” none of whom are white. Its training manual says cops should learn to be “better listeners” and look out for dangerous warning signs like belief in “Western efforts to exploit or undermine Middle Eastern countries for economic or geopolitical gain,” or simply “being passionate about Somalia.”

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition led a campaign to oppose the motion, and the teachers’ and school professionals’ unions are just two of many organizations strongly opposing it. About a dozen callers had similar messages: it’s a racist program that seeks to turn Black and Muslim counselors and faith leaders into police spies, undermining trust in communities and dissuading people from seeking mental health support.

Councilmember Mike Bonin opposed the motion, saying, “Let’s say a young person has strongly-held beliefs, a fierce connection to community, and an interest in firearms. If they’re Black or Muslim, they’ll face suspicion. If they’re white, they’ll be recruited into the armed forces or law enforcement.”

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson supported the motion, saying that while LAPD has illegally and racistly surveilled people he loves, they have assured him they won’t do anything like that this time.

In 2018, a number of community organizations sued the city for obscuring details about the program. The organizations (ACLU, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Vigilant Love) say the program is reminiscent of COINTELPRO, “which sought to surveil, infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt civil rights, Native American and Black nationalist movements, and whose abuses were only properly exposed through public records requests.”

The motion passed with only Bonin and Councilmember Nithya Raman voting no. 

On March 9, the council also voted to approve a $7.3 million sale of a former library site named after a pioneering Black educator so that a developer can construct a Marriott hotel in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood.

Twenty-four community organizations signed an open letter opposing the sale, because (hello!) we are in a housing crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, and affordable housing would be much better for the community than a fancy hotel for tourists. The surrounding community is three quarters Black and/or Latino, and has seen a 76% increase in homelessness in the last five years. On one street just a half block from the library site, 80% of the entire street was recently displaced.

The motion passed unanimously. 

LA Homelessness and Poverty Committee Meeting 3/10/22

In the 1950s through the 1990s, CalTrans purchased hundreds of homes in El Sereno, South Pasadena, and Pasadena with plans to demolish them. They planned to connect the 710 and 210 freeways, but facing community opposition, they canceled those plans in 2018. The homes have been empty for decades while tens of thousands of people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles.

Since the homes are already government-owned and off the rental market, many have pushed for them to become affordable housing under community control. Community land trusts, for example, could manage them, or they could just be sold at a reasonable rate to aspiring homeowners displaced from other government projects.

Tired of waiting for government action, a group of moms settled their families into some of the El Sereno homes in the fall of 2020, until Highway Patrol officers violently forced them out on Thanksgiving Day.

In an open letter, the reclaimers demanded “the homes be sold to the El Sereno Community Land trust at their original price,” so that formerly unhoused families could continue to live in them.

Instead there’s a motion for the city to buy them — at their original price — and turn them into city-run affordable housing. At Thursday’s meeting, one caller said community land trusts are a better idea, because they could manage housing “without the waste, kickbacks, and corruption of the contractors of the City.”

The city has budgeted around $2.5 million for homes and properties that will offer 169 units of affordable housing. That comes out to under $15,000 per home purchased by the city! 

Blumenfield couldn’t quite believe it either. He chuckled and asked the committee, where do I get that broker? Councilmember de León told him it’s a “unique situation” and that the homes are “dilapidated” and “barely houses.” Take a look at these pictures and decide for yourself.

During public comment, a caller named Ruth offered a personal email address to city council members who wanted to talk to an actual unhoused person, since that perspective seems to be missing from debate. Ruth said the evictions in El Sereno triggered traumatic flashbacks of being evicted as a teenager, and wondered why the state can’t just let people have autonomy over their housing.

LA City Council Meeting 3/11/22

The March 11 meeting had a short agenda, but there were still several important items. Multiple issues dealt with housing from different angles. Item 1 took some steps to implement the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Accelerator Program. This would help people build or fix up additional housing units on their property. While this may help increase the amount of housing in LA, it is still approaching housing from a market-based lens that will never truly be in people’s best interest. 

Item 3 is a report about purchasing some houses that were originally purchased by the city to extend the 710. These houses were briefly occupied by some unhoused people and advocates before they were forced out by the police. If the city goes through with buying these houses, they are meant to be used for affordable housing. 

Items 7-10 placed some restrictions on where and when RVs can be parked on certain streets. These motions are yet another attack on unhoused people. When looking at this meeting as a whole, you can see that the council either doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to help get people into housing.

A couple of items focused on how the city should spend its money. Item 2 extended the contract “for the collection, transportation, and processing of used/waste tires for beneficial reuse” with BJ Used Tire and Rubber Recycling Inc. Item 11 gave up to $35 million to “finance the acquisition, predevelopment, rehabilitation, and construction of a 62-unit multifamily rental housing project.” At an estimated cost of over $500,000 per unit, that seems quite pricey.

One public commenter questioned the need to spend this much money on this project, and suggested it would be better used to fund ADUs. Item 12 funded some tree services, and item 13 moved some money around to pay for some stuff Mayor Garcetti did to recognize the Ukrainian community, including lighting up City Hall.