Late in September 2020, Mayor Garcetti hosted a “Pre-Election Townhall” and went mask off.
On September 23, Mayor Eric Garcetti participated in a private, digital event for a large entertainment company. The staff (a few hundred of whom attended the call) submitted questions before and during the event, with the goal of engaging in civic dialogue.
It was labeled a “Pre-Election Town Hall,” a meaningless phrase that neatly avoids some campaign event regulations. KNOCK.LA received a video of Garcetti’s response to questions relating to the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. You can watch that clip here in its entirety, and we recommend you do so before reading this article:
However, we feel it’s important to give context to some of Garcetti’s statements. After Garcetti went to Iowa in 2018, it has been clear that his discourse on issues in Los Angeles is seldom meant for people who actually live here. What he says is meant to sound correct to some imaginary, moderate voter in Middle America.
So. Let’s take a look at what Garcetti is actually saying.
Garcetti opens by giving his credentials: he’s been working on homelessness since he was 14, and even “started a group that was building housing” in college. This likely refers to his founding of the Columbia Urban Experience (CUE), a week-long student program at Columbia University that focuses on community service. As of 2019, the volunteer aspect of CUE programs included “urban farming; Planned Parenthood; and Brooklyn Defender Services, which helps with incarceration justice.”
KNOCK.LA was unable to find records of CUE ever “building housing.” We were able to confirm, however, that housing construction is not an area supported by CUE’s typical nonprofit partners. Garcetti did volunteer for Habitat for Humanity around the same time (an organization he did not start), but it’s unclear if he volunteered for the single renovation project the group completed in Manhattan during the early ‘90s. Also, it’s worth noting that Columbia University has long been seen as a force of gentrification and racial banishment in Harlem.
Garcetti then goes on to say that “the city is never going to solve homelessness on its own.” He clarifies, “this is not a dodge of my responsibility, in fact I take ownership of the response to homelessness.” So, therefore: the homelessness crisis is simultaneously A) a problem the city is incapable of solving and B) something Garcetti takes personal responsibility for. He’s taking the blame for something framed as blameless. This is a well-worn weapon in Garcetti’s arsenal, leading some frustrated constituents to dub the mayor “Spaghetti Garcetti,” a reference to his spinelessness.
For Garcetti, you see, “the jurisdiction of the city government really isn’t of the causes in or the cures out of homelessness,” which he simplifies as “trauma meets high rent.” While he concedes that the City of LA has “a little bit more control over the rent stuff,” it remains clear that Garcetti believes (or wants the imaginary voter to believe) that stabilizing or lowering rent in a meaningful way is basically impossible at the city level.
It’s true that Costa-Hawkins essentially precludes the expansion of rent control in California, and that Garcetti has supported its repeal in the past. However, it is equally true that the City of LA has likely violated constitutional law multiple times in the past year, including imposing an illegal curfew during the 2020 LA Uprisings and harassing unhoused residents for sleeping on the streets (despite lacking an adequate number of shelter beds). Garcetti acts as though his hands are tied when protecting our most vulnerable residents, but when it comes time to punishing the powerless, the city is happy to employ policy tools of questionable legality.
He also completely absolves the city of responsibility for “trauma,” the other half of his homelessness equation. All of his cited examples of trauma (the foster care system, veteran issues, divorce, mental health issues/addiction, and sexual and domestic violence) fall instead on LA County. He’s correct in some respects: LA County does in fact coordinate mental health services. In 2015, however, Garcetti issued an Executive Directive ordering city departments to work together against domestic violence. One year later, the city was awarded a three-year, $425,000 grant dedicated to “providing thorough domestic and sexual abuse response to victims with all types of disabilities.” This was after creating a domestic abuse public education campaign in partnership with the LAPD, which has a well-documented history of internal violence against women and children. In 2019, LA was awarded an additional $100,000 from the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women. The mayor will absolutely take money to fight domestic violence. He will not, however, take responsibility.
This all leads to Garcetti’s mostly blatantly insensitive moment.
After hand waving LA’s responsibility for the homelessness crisis, Garcetti says, “[t]he City is kind of like, at the Rose Parade, you know those folks who are dressed up in the cowboy outfits but they’re behind the horses? Sweeping up everything that falls out of their rear ends? That’s kind of what the city’s role is when it comes to homelessness. We aren’t necessarily feeding or producing it, but we are having to clean it up.”
Horseshit. He’s explicitly comparing human beings who’ve been failed by the system and denied housing to horseshit. He’s the mayor of a city with an estimated homeless population of at least 41,290, and he’s saying those people are shit he’d rather not deal with.
Unhoused Hollywood resident, artist, and activist Halcyon Selfmade said in response to the video, “I am absolutely incensed at his disgusting metaphor for the unhoused community to horse dung, his false equivalency to the foster care system or other traumatic events, and his virtue signaling rhetoric. ‘This really isn’t my problem, but look how much good I’m doing to fix it,’ It’s obscene in the lack of empathy. It’s abhorrent that he thinks it’s not his problem to fix.”
All of the above happened within under two minutes of his nine-minute response. To save time and sanity, here are some highlights of his most egregious comments over the next seven minutes, with the corresponding time stamps:
- 2:22 — Garcetti brags about drastically increasing the number of outreach workers in LA over the past three years. This increase in outreach workers was largely funded by LA County Measure H, so he’s taking credit for county accomplishments (without, of course, accepting blame). In that same timeframe of three years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority [LAHSA] has fired two employees, Ashley Bennett and Kristy Lovich, for advocating for the rights of unhoused residents and the termination of LAHSA’s relationship with the LAPD (since 2017, around 30 percent of the LAPD’s use-of-force cases have been against unhoused individuals).
- 5:34 — Garcetti laments that only one in eight people who qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers in Los Angeles get to use them. He says, “when it comes to housing, it’s a one in eight chance, when you qualify, that you’ll get it, so it’s a lottery, instead of an entitlement.” That’s why he lobbied for making Section 8 a universal entitlement in Biden’s platform (and effectively sent in his application as HUD Secretary). However, look at the City of Los Angeles’ Emergency Rental Assistance program, meant to provide relief to people impacted by COVID-19. It was a lottery. The mayor also offered COVID-19 relief funds in the form of pre-paid debit cards through his nonprofit organization. This, also, was a lottery. When rubber hits the road, it turns out Garcetti is totally fine with lotteries.
- 7:10 — Garcetti says, “We actually successfully have kept COVID away from people experiencing homelessness more than those of us who are housed.” This is incredibly gross. It’s true that statistics show unhoused Angelenos are testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate lower than housed residents. However, this is likely because two of the most common infection sites are bars and workplaces. This is doubly frustrating because Garcetti has himself admitted that it was a terrible decision to “reopen” Los Angeles early. So he knows why more housed people have tested positive, and is deliberately twisting the facts.
- 7:30 — Garcetti claims he’d love to see thousands of more people housed, but “it’s the worst budget year ever.” The LAPD will receive a 4.8 percent raise this year while the city furloughs 15,000 workers.
- 8:12 — Garcetti says, “By the way, couple other things that were in there [he gestures in front of his face, presumably at a screen displaying questions from the attendees] we still have to clean streets, alright, ‘sweeps of people,’ in fact there are kind of some folks who’ve kind of protested and kept away COVID tests and showers and services.” On August 26, a group of protesters monitored an encampment sweep in Hollywood to prevent displacement of unhoused residents. While there were showers present, KNOCK.LA unable to find any instance then (or in the past year where) protesters actively prevented showers or COVID tests from being distributed to unhoused residents. The City of LA spends $30 million on encampment sweeps annually.
- 8:44 — Garcetti says, “I hope after COVD-19, I hope we don’t let people go back onto the streets, and when I say ‘we,’ it’s not just the city, that means the Federal government and the State continuing the funding they’ve given us during COVID-19, so that we don’t see 4 to 5,000 people we’ve just housed in the past couple of months, go back on the streets.” Here, and it’s a bit confusing given the way he’s framed “we,” Garcetti appears to claim that the city has housed between 4 and 5,000 people during the pandemic, specifically with State and Federal funding. He seems to be referencing Project Roomkey, which only secured 2,141 hotel rooms in Los Angeles to shelter unhoused residents. Many of these rooms were single occupancy. He could be referring to the number of LA County rooms secured (4,177), but Garcetti has made it clear he cannot accept the blame for the county’s mistakes, so surely he wouldn’t try to take credit for its successes.
Given his position as Co-Chair of Biden’s presidential campaign, it is not unreasonable to assume that Garcetti is in line for a cabinet position should Biden win. It is already widely rumored that he’s jockeying for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
A man who compares unhoused people to shit has no place in that position.