The attention the mayor’s office has lavished on the billionaire Hollywood executive stands in stark contrast to how they treat activists and organizers.
Brian Buchner’s official role in Mayor Garcetti’s office is chief of homelessness operations and street strategies, but during much of the summer of 2021, he took on a different role: working as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s personal scheduler. After Katzenberg met with the mayor in mid-June, Buchner continued to do outreach on his behalf to schedule meetings with county officials, department heads, the LAPD, and various nonprofits.
Buchner personally reached out the offices of all five LA County supervisors to schedule meetings with Katzenberg. Supervisor Hilda Solis is the only one who declined, offering instead to introduce Katzenberg to a housing and homelessness staffer.
Buchner also arranged meetings for Katzenberg with the CEO of United Way, Elise Buik, and connected him via email with Nan Roman of the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with Janey Rountree of the California Policy Lab. The California Policy Lab’s reporting on using analytics to predict homelessness was instrumental in directing Measure H funds. Katzenberg donated $50,000 to the campaign to approve Measure H.
In a later email, Buchner says that Katzenberg has also met with Lena Miller, the CEO of Urban Alchemy; the CEO of St. Joseph Center; and Ken and Laurie Craft, who are, respectively, the CEO and chief programs officer of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, a faith-based nonprofit organization dealing with homelessness in the Valley. UPDATE: After publishing, Ken Craft provided Knock LA with details of his meeting with Katzenberg, saying that Katzenberg “realized that HHH Bond Measure was making a difference but he also realized that another bond measure would most likely be needed and he was concerned that voters may not vote for another measure when the optics appear that not enough is being done.”
Buchner also set Katzenberg up on a tour of Skid Row with Urban Alchemy’s program operational manager and LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who infamously challenged LeBron James’ comments on police brutality in April.
As the LA Times and Knock LA have previously reported, Katzenberg has also met with the majority of LA city councilmembers, as well as LAHSA’s Executive Director Heidi Marston and Chairwoman Wendy Greuel. Since then, Knock LA has confirmed that Katzenberg has met with at least 14 of the 15 city councilmembers. It remains unclear if he met with Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who did not return comment at the time of publishing.
Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who met with Katzenberg in July, told Knock LA that, in the meeting, Jeffrey Katzenberg lobbied him about mobile healthcare stations. Councilmember Kevin de León said that Katzenberg was interested in housing solutions. Update: After publishing, the office of Councilmember Bob Blumenfield provided details of their meeting with Katzenberg, saying that Kaatzenberg said he supported a bill in the state senate to expand street medicine. Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office told Knock LA that the meeting was about Katzenberg’s “shared concern for the growing homelessness crisis and his desire to be part of the solution.”
Katzenberg also met with LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who told Knock LA that the meeting was a “general discussion of public safety matters in Los Angeles,” and of “strategies and initiatives.” He added that Katzenberg is one of the “premier thought leaders in Los Angeles.”
While Garcetti’s chief of homeless operations personally set up a slew of meetings for Katzenberg (who lives in Beverly Hills), local advocates have described communications with the mayor’s office as a veritable black box.
Robert Reynolds, a veteran outreach coordinator at AMVETS, has been working for years to get the unhoused veterans on Veterans Row into housing. He says he’s been requesting meetings with the mayor’s office since 2019, but after multiple attempts, he heard back “absolutely nothing.” A veteran representative from the mayor’s office reached out to him once during last summer’s George Floyd uprisings to ask how the police were treating the veterans, but no action was taken after the conversation.
During the unveiling of a Purple Line extension on the VA land last May, Reynolds encountered Mayor Garcetti and asked him to help house people on the sidewalk. “His response was, ‘Yes we know there’s a problem there, and we’re going to be building 1,200 units of housing,’” Reynolds recalled. “I said that that was promised years ago, in 2015.”
“Anything that upsets their status quo or conflicts with whatever is already in place, they don’t want to hear about,” says Reynolds. “They want to press along with their agenda, and place the blame on the individual or the homeless veteran instead of taking responsibility for the fact that the system’s failing.”
Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, says that Garcetti met with the organization once in 2015, but despite Garcetti’s multiple public statements that he would meet after last summer’s uprisings, he has not come through on his promise.
“Our calls, our emails, our letters are ignored,” Abdullah says. The office offered a meeting with staff, but BLM LA declined, saying they wanted a meeting with the mayor himself.
Abdullah says that the office of the mayor has been the least responsive of the public officials with whom she’s attempted to meet. “Even those who we disagree with — our city councilmembers, our state legislators, our members of Congress — we’ve had access to them,” she says. “I think that the ones who want to shake accountability do so by blocking access.”
Regarding how Garcetti’s office set up meetings for Katzenberg, Abdullah said that “[Garcetti] wants their support and he has political ambitions … instead of meeting with Black Lives Matter, he appropriates our language and gives a public face as if he’s friendly to Black people, but the only Black people he surrounds himself with or includes in his circle or gives access to or those who have absolutely no critique or criticism of him.” She went on to call Garcetti a coward, and said she hopes that the next mayor of LA will be open to talking about the People’s Budget, police accountability, and resources for Black communities.
Pete White, executive director and founder of LACAN, tells Knock LA that requests with the mayor’s office to meet would fall on deaf ears, and protests would ensue. The mayor’s office is more responsive, he says, after lawsuits are filed against the city for specific issues. “When the mayor knew there was a complaint filed and the courts would demand settlement conferences, then the mayor’s office would meet with us,” he says, “otherwise, without that sort of litigation, it’s been really difficult for most organizers, activities, policy type folks who disagree with the mayor, to actually get in, sit down and meet with him.”
When we told him about the mayor’s office organizing meetings for Katzenberg, he said that “it’s not a surprise to us on the ground that folks like Jeffrey Katzenberg and others get this Platinum Card treatment, because, from the mayor’s vantage, Katzenberg and that class of liberal, progressive billionaires are who they really want to hear from — they want to hear from them what their agenda is, and so they can get right on top of that agenda in hopes of continuing to secure campaign resources from Katzenberg.”
Channing Martinez, director of organizing for the Bus Riders Union, told Knock LA that the organization met with Garcetti in 2014 to talk about their campaign for free public transportation. Garcetti (who, as mayor, appoints four seats on the Metro Board of Directors) said that the board was moving in that direction, but was “not ready yet.” The board subsequently voted to dramatically increase fares.
The Bus Riders Union later tried to set up a meeting with Garcetti to talk about getting military-grade weapons out of LAUSD, but the meeting never came to fruition. On another occasion, when they sent out letters to all Metro Board members for their most recent campaign, Garcetti’s office did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter.
“I think it’s heartbreaking,” Martinez said. “Garcetti isn’t the only elected official that doesn’t say something because they are running for something… It’s a larger question around how the Office of Mayor works, and if anyone who plans to get into office really plans to actually meet with and organize around groups that are doing work in the city, as opposed to businesses and corporate interests.”
Brian Buchner and the mayor’s office did not respond for comment by the time of publishing, nor did Jeffrey Katzenberg. Knock LA also reached out to multiple county supervisors, Lena Miller and Janey Rountree, CAO Matt Szabo, and Officer Deon Joseph to inquire as to what was discussed at their meetings, and they did not return comment by the time of publishing.
Update: Beginning October 4, Brian Buchner will be working as CAO Matt Szabo’s city homelessness coordinator. His responsibilities will include coordinating with the mayor’s office, City Council, LAHSA, the county, nonprofits, and “philanthropic organizations, and other partners” on homelessness initiatives.