‘Sanctuary State’ Lawsuit; ACLU sues Los Alamitos after City Council votes to formally implement its anti-‘Sanctuary State’ ordinance

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Crowds arrived hours before the meeting. Outside, bullhorns and chanting can be heard blocks away. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 23, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, along with other groups, is suing the city of Los Alamitos for an ordinance which exempts the city from SB 54, the so-called “Sanctuary State” Law.

The law prohibits state and local officials from assisting federal agents to enforce immigration law, unless compelled to do so by court order.

Several other cities and the county have decided to support Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s lawsuit against the state, arguing that SB 54 and two other laws aimed at opposing Trump’s immigration policy are unconstitutional. Sessions is arguing that these laws are a violation of the supremacy clause, which grants the federal government precedence over state law. While other municipalities either joined the lawsuits or sent supporting documents, Los Alamitos is the only one to pass an ordinance that directly contradicts the state law.

“The United States Constitution takes exception with the California Values Act, and that is what I proposed to my colleagues,” says the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilmember Warren Kusumoto.

“I can’t think of a better, more forceful way to say we’re on record [opposing SB 54] than to add an ordinance to our municipal code.”

In a statement to the press, Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California said, “ The City Council cannot appoint itself judge and jury and decide which state laws it will and will not follow… That is clearly unlawful.”

Reverend Samuel Pullen of the Community Congregational United Church is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and said, “Los Alamitos’s illegal ordinance causes serious harm to my ability to serve my congregation… Immigrant worshippers are less likely to come and participate in church services because of their fear that Los Alamitos and its law enforcement officials are helping deport members of our community.”

They held a press conference at the Los Alamitos City Hall on Wednesday where they presented the lawsuit to the City Clerk. The lawsuit claims that the ordinance is unlawful, squanders city funds, and “threatens residents’ safety and well-being.”

Two days before, the City Council voted 4-1 to officially implement the ordinance which they passed last month.

The scene was raucous, with protesters on both sides loudly expressing their beliefs on the grounds of the Civic Center and in public comment which went on for around 4 1/2 hours.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – A Somalian man waves Trump campaign and U.S. flags high. He says he and his family came to this country legally. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The night of… inside

After genial city business, like presenting an award to a Los Alamitos police officer for drunk driving enforcement, the council voted to drop many of the agenda items for the evening and commence on the issue that drew the large crowd that evening.

Barbara Farrell of Los Alamitos said “SB 54 is the law of our state. As a citizen of Los Alamitos, I demand that you uphold that law. Vote no, do not tear our families and communities apart. We are a diverse community, and we love our diversity. We love our immigrant neighbors.”

“The reason for the ordinance was ostensible to be concerned about conflict between state law and federal law,” said Joel Block, a resident of neighboring Rossmoor, labor attorney and a former State Assembly candidate.

“That conflict is being resolved in the lawsuit by Attorney General Sessions against the state of California that ultimately will probably go to the highest court if they accept it to make a final determination on that issue. Adding another ordinance is gonna create another lawsuit which is gonna create the possibility that you could get two different decisions.”

“You’re taking over the judicial function of determining whether the state law is legal or not. City councils cannot take over that judicial function of nullifying state law (I want that to sink in). You can end up having Sessions win the case against California and you could still lose this lawsuit.”

Gerri Mejia, former mayor of Los Alamitos, voiced her support for the ordinance and advised fellow supporters to “put their money where their mouth is.”

“There’s a “GoFundMe” page that will help people who support what you’re doing tonight, and what you did at the last council meeting, to be able to give funds… They can give to that cause and they can make sure that this city, the first city, the smallest city, took a stand and said we need to make sure that we secure our residents.”

Mayor Troy Edgar created the “GoFundMe” to pay for legal costs for the predicted challenge of the ordinance.

At the time of publication, the page had raised over $20,000 of its $100,000 goal.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – A Somalian man waves Trump campaign and U.S. flags high. He says he and his family came to this country legally. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Antoinette Joselyn West, a resident of Los Alamitos, supports the decision: “I support you. I’m a resident of Los Alamitos for 31 years and I believe you’re doing the right thing.”

Betty Robinson, a 60-year resident of Orange County, argued: “Supporters of illegal aliens say that there are 800 crimes listed in SB 54 that allow for I.C.E. to be notified. The California State Sheriffs Association opposes SB 54 and lists examples of crimes committed by illegal aliens for which I.C.E. would not be called such as: serial thieves, assaults to police officers, chronic drug users, known criminal gang members, and repeat drunk drivers.”

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has publicly come out against SB 54, going so far as to publicly post inmate release dates on their website, giving I.C.E. an indirect notification of undocumented immigrant releases.

Councilmember Mark Chirco was the lone vote against the ordinance.

After asking the city attorney how much money had already been spent on the ordinance—thousands—Chirco learned from Los Alamitos Chief Eric Nunez that SB 54 has had little to no effect on Los Alamitos policing. He then went on to deliver an impassioned speech against the ordinance.

Chirco, the only lawyer on the city council, argued that the council did not have the legal authority to determine whether or not SB 54 is unconstitutional.

“I’m not saying whether there is or is not a conflict [between SB 54 and the U.S. Constitution]. I know who will say that—a federal judge.”

“The constitution says it is the judicial branch that settles disputes of law and interprets the constitution.”

“Since there has been no finding that SB 54 is unconstitutional, I do not believe that this city council has the legal authority to declare it unconstitutional.”

He argued that, along with being highly divisive, the ordinance has wasted Los Alamitos’s precious money and resources.

“Tonight, we’ve got a couple of agenda items that we’re not going to address. They were on the agenda last month, we’re not addressing those as well. That’s our actual city business.”

“Defending this flawed ordinance, could and would literally bankrupt our city. How then do we pay for our wonderful police department? Pay for our community events? Pay for our excellent city staff? We don’t. Do we increase taxes? I don’t want to do that.”

“I don’t think government by “GoFundMe” is responsible government” Chirco quipped.

Councilmember Richard Murphy argued that while he supports the idea of the ordinance—“it’s easy to vote against a bill [SB 54] that protects illegal alien criminals”—there should be more time to review its legality.

He proposed to table the ordinance, allowing for city staff to come back with more options. His motion was not seconded and died.

“I urge the council to slow down and get it right.”

Murphy ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance.

Councilmember Warren Kusumoto, the ordinance’s sponsor, chose to not offer comment.

Mayor Edgar dropped a Navy adage while delivering his enthusiastic support for implementing the ordinance: “You can’t keep polishing the cannonball, you gotta shoot it.”

He spoke proudly of the trend that Los Alamitos started and refuted those who criticized the “circus” that was occurring at city council meetings such as this one.

“Don’t be afraid of democracy. That’s what this is right?”

 

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Demonstrators opposing the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ ordinance. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

…Outside…

Outside the council chambers, a chaotic mix of protesters on both sides made loud declarations of their beliefs.

“Hey hey, ho ho, all illegals got to go” went one chant.

“Up up with liberation, down, down with deportation” went another.

Shouting matches erupted throughout. A few physical altercations took place between the opposing protesters, but they were quickly stamped out by Los Alamitos police officers who were monitoring the situation closely.

Along with Los Alamitos P.D., members of the National Lawyers Guild were there observing. One volunteer explained that they often observe protests in the hopes of deescalating any possible altercations and to document any conflicts that might arise with law enforcement.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Protesters attempt to silence one another. Los Alamitos P.D. stand nearby, intervening only for physical altercations. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

“There’s been quite a bit of shouting back and forth, people having arguments with each other, but other than that there are people on both sides expressing their opinions very forcefully.”

At moments, grounds around city hall felt like a music festival, with drums beating and a keyboardist playing Mexican music, encouraging people to dance.

Erik Garcia, a member of Decolonize O.C., says of the other side: “They’re pushing a political agenda that endorses hate.”

Matthew Hom, of Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish organization: “We don’t support instilling fear in our communities and [the City Council] using their power to make a divisive situation.”

Mike McCoy, who was holding a sign reading ‘Build A Wall, Deport Them All’: “The state of California doesn’t have any jurisdiction over immigration law.”

“26,000 [U.S. Citizens have been killed by undocumented immigrants] since 9/11. That’s more than Vietnam.”

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Mike McCoy, supporter of Los Alamitos’s ordinance exempting itself from California’s ‘Sanctuary State’ law, sits outside of City Hall. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Killings by undocumented immigrants was a popular argument amongst protesters supporting the ordinance.

Marina Lynn held a sign that read “Kate Stiehle Robert Morton Had Dreams No Sanctuary City.”

“These two victims were killed by illegal aliens,” Lynn explained.

While there is no concrete data on the rate of killings committed by those in the United States illegally, several studies have found that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than people born in the U.S.

“You break the law you go to jail,” one anti-illegal immigration protester announces while a Los Alamitos police officer looks on.

Jake is a Los Alamitos resident and was waving a flag along Katella Boulevard with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and shirt. He said that most of the people in his community support the city council’s decision.

Andre Soriano, a fashion designer, legally immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. He believes it unfair for undocumented immigrants to not have to go through the rigorous citizenship process like he did: “We came here legally, we believe in the constitution of the united states of America, and it’s not for free… [Immigrants] have to work for it. They have to be legal.”

 

‘The rent is too damn high!’; SoCal Rent Control Coalition Holds Press Conference In Downtown Los Angeles

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 16, 2018 

Coalition of groups pushing for regional rent control gather at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

April 12, 2018, April 12, 2018, a regional coalition of groups pushing for rent control in their cities gather at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky | The Sprawl

The steps outside of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Grand Park were alive with chants for rent control this past Thursday. A coalition of affordable housing groups from across the Greater L.A. area held a press conference to a scattering of press and onlookers. Organizers held signs with slogans including “No Nos Vamos A Dejar” (‘we are not going to leave’) and “Make Housing Affordable!”, while standing behind moving boxes.

Most of these groups are currently gathering signatures to put rent control initiatives on their cities’ ballots in November.

Allison Henry of the Pasadena Tenants Union announced that their charter amendment had just received an endorsement from the Pasadena Unified School District, Board of Education. Two Board members are actually collecting signatures themselves, Henry added.

“They’re concerned about declining student enrollment and personnel in the district who are getting their own rents increased, outpacing what the district is able to pay them,” said Henry.

The conference featured both Spanish and English speakers. Each speaker was followed by a translator who summarized their statement.

Mike Van Gorder, Captain with the Glendale Tenants Union, shared stories of Glendale residents who have suffered dramatic rent increases, including two who were forced to move out of the city. His organization is seeking an ordinance in Glendale that will cap rent increases at 4% a year.

“I’m not here to talk about my own massive misfortunes because in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been very lucky,” said Van Groder. “But should we have to rely on luck for a [sic] living situation? No.”

Van Gorder listed other reforms he’d like to see in place: “Repeal Costa-Hawkins, get rid of the Ellis Act, we need income reflective housing for the working class, we need vacancy taxes, we need a public bank to fund public land trusts and public housing.”

“But first things first,” said Van Gorder, “We need meaningful rent stabilization.”

Jordan Wynne, of Housing Long Beach, ended his statement with a chant for “Rent Control Now!” If passed, their ordinance would cap rent increases at 100% of the C.P.I., a index used by government to determine inflation.

Promise Lee, an organizer with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, called for an expansion of rent control in the City of Los Angeles.

Lee described the situation in a non-rent controlled building: “There are folks that have already been forced out because they can’t pay these rent increases. And across the hall there are these young hip white folks who are moving in and partying in those flats while the remaining low-income residents are working and fighting and organizing to stay.”

Roughly 43.6% of housing units in the City of Los Angeles are rent controlled, according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Housing and Community Investment Department of the City of Los Angeles.

Many Affordable housing advocates want to expand rent control by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law which prohibits certain units from being rent-controlled. Signature gathering is currently underway for a statewide proposition to do just that in November.

Alberto Andrata of Pomona, Apolonio Cortez of Santa Ana, and Maria Gustos of Unincorporated East L.A. all delivered their statements in Spanish. Like their English-speaking counterparts, they spoke of predatory landlords and wages unable to keep pace with rising housing costs.

Woodrow Curry of Uplift Inglewood, also pushing for a rent control charter amendment, delivered a call to action: “Join a local campaign if there is a local campaign in your area. If there is not a local campaign in your area, do like many of us have done and start one.”

Repeal of Cost-Hawkins and rent control initiatives are being strongly opposed by Apartment Associations in the state which represent real estate developers and landlords. The largest among them, the California Apartment Association, successfully lobbied against a repeal of Costa-Hawkins in the state assembly earlier this year. In 2017, their political action committee reported total contributions of a little over $1.5 million.

 

Day 26 – Kaleb Havens

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 22, 2018

The season of Lent is one of self-denial. It is a season of solemn observance when many Christian traditions call on followers to emulate the suffering of Christ who is purported to have spent 40 days fasting in the desert shortly before his crucifixion. Kaleb Havens, of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, decided to spend this Lent bringing awareness to homelessness in Los Angeles. He is spending 46 days on a hunger strike in Skid Row.

Kaleb has worked in Skid Row since 2013. The Los Angeles Catholic Worker provides 3,000 hot meals a week as well as free medical care and other amenities.

Kaleb is chained to a fence with three locks: one for Skid row, one for mayor Eric Garcetti, and one for Councilmember Jose Huizar whose district includes Skid Row. He says he came up with the idea of a hunger strike “about 10 days” before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Catholic season of Lent.

Los Angeles voters passed measure HHH in 2016, an initiative that authorizes $1.2 billion in bond money to fund homeless housing. But many homeless advocates in Los Angeles believe the money from HHH isn’t hitting the streets quick enough to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, L.A. County had 57,794 homeless residents in 2017. That’s up 23% from 2016.

Kaleb Havens believes part of the solution is here in Skid Row. Skid Row’s many vacant buildings, Kaleb believes, should be converted into homeless housing.

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Protesters with the Catholic Worker outside of the office of Councilmember Jose Huizar demanding more action on affordable housing. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb on a conversation he had with Huizar who came to visit him on his hunger strike:

Little policy; little of what’s possible, little of what’s not. I asked for things, he asked for things. He needs activists in the city meetings, in the committees, in the city council meetings, vocalizing promoting the solutions that are in line with our core values. For instance, the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance and the Motel Conversion Ordinance last week. Things that we’re trying to do to cut red tape, more housing options down here [in Skid Row] but it’s a long process.”

 

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Kaleb is chained to a fenced. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance is currently in committee. It expedites city approval for buildings that provide housing for the homeless and have on-site supportive services. If the building meets the requirements of the ordinance, it would not need to be approved by the City Council to begin construction. The Motel Conversion Ordinance allows for motels to be converted into permanent housing regardless of the building’s zoning. If approved by the Planning Committee, these ordinances will go before the City Council for a vote.  

 

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Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb Havens on his philosophy of property rights:

“The problem with land use is kind of embedded in our own psyche about what we believe are our own property rights. So most Americans, when you ask them, ‘well ya a developer can do with his own building whatever he wants if they bought it cause it’s their property’. And that’s true, for almost everything, to a certain point. Like if you’re a rich person sitting on a reserve, a cache of water in the middle of a drought, and you’re charging such exorbitantly high prices, or just not even selling that water, to the point where people are dying of thirst, than your property rights have violated someone else’s human rights. So there is a point where that doesn’t become true anymore… So we’re just educating people about how land use can be corrupt. For instance, just land banking and not even developing a property you buy, letting it sit empty while people die on the streets. That’s not an OK use of your personal property. Either s— or get off the pot. Either develop something that is of use to the community or let go of the asset. Cause vacant properties are taking up space that could be used to solve this crisis and they’re lowering everyone else’s property value because vacant properties are bad for cities.”

 

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Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb on civic engagement and the struggle to end homelessness:

“We can’t do anything if people don’t make noise. If people don’t vote and just stay home and make a facebook post about how bad things are then don’t do anything. If you don’t go to a City Council meeting, if you don’t go to a Planning and Use Management meeting, if you don’t go to a Homelessness and Poverty meeting, if you don’t sign a petition meeting, if you don’t vote, if you don’t write your representative, you’re not doing s—. I am trying to generate conversation for this but this is just the first few steps in a very long marathon.”

 

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During a heat wave in Los Angeles, a homeless man collapses on the downtown sidewalk. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb Havens points out that it is less expensive to provide permanent housing for homeless people than to have them live on the street.

A study commissioned by L.A. County found that formerly homeless people who were given permanent housing were hospitalized and arrested less. When accounting for the costs of permanent housing and supportive services, the county saw an average decline of 20% in spending.

‘The Welcome Party’: Trump’s First Visit to the Southland

March 13, 2018 – President Donald Trump touches down in California for the first time since becoming President. He came to inspect prototypes for the southern border wall in San Diego, address service members at Miramar Marine Base, and attend a fundraiser in Beverly Hills at the home of Edward Glazer, co-Chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

People flooded Beverly Gardens Park to protest President Trump’s arrival. The rally was more like a festival than a protest; apparel and hotdogs were sold by local vendors. A large float of Donald Trump, holding a KKK hood in his right arm, made an appearance. With the exception of a few minor altercations, the protest was a peaceful event.

 

Maywood embroiled in scandal; D.A. investigation into possible corruption dominates City Council meeting.

 

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Mayor Roman Medina looks to Gerardo Mayagoitia, City Clerk as he accuses him of corruption. “I’ve been sending the DA paperwork for awhile now,” Says Mayagoitia. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 7, 2018

The Maywood City Council chambers were heavily attended this past Wednesday, February 28th. Along with the numerous residents, the back wall was lined with Sheriff’s Deputies. There were calls for resignation and recall of Mayor Ramon Medina, along with a few rebukes from his supporters. Shouting matches erupted.

A little over 2 weeks before, on February 9th, City Hall was being searched by investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney. While residents spoke about the shame being brought to Maywood and openly accused the Mayor and other councilmembers of corruption, an activist dressed as a clown lumbered through the room from time to time, occasionally speaking out of turn. More on him later.

 

This is the city of Maywood as it is enveloped in an imbroglio involving accusations of pay to play contracts and bribery of city leadership, claims of high level nepotism, and a city government which is in debt by over $15 million—two times what its yearly spending is.

On February 9th, D.A. investigators searched the residences of Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina, former Councilmember Sergio Caldaron, 13 businesses and City Hall itself seizing boxes of documents and computers.

The LA times obtained the search warrant. In it, 4 current and former council members are listed, along with current and former city administrators, 13 companies, and local political activist Edwin T. Snell. Along with the Medina and Calderon, other officials under investigation include Vice Mayor Ricardo Villarreal, City Attorney Michael Montgomery, Building, and Planning Director David Mango, former Councilmember Thomas Martin, and Interim City Manager Reuben Martinez, who is currently on a leave of absence.

 

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An empty frame hangs on the wall that was once held the portrait of Councilmember Sergio Calderon, who resigned in January after being sued by County prosecutors for occupying two public offices at once. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office conducted a raid at Maywood City Hall, the homes of Mayor Roman Medina and Sergio Calderon, and 13 other businesses.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

The hiring of Mr. Martinez was itself the subject of criticism as Mr. Martinez has no government experience and was found to be a personal relation of Mayor Medina.

One of the mayor’s neighbors saw the raid took place early that morning. She reports seeing members of the household brought in the front yard with their “hands up”, while investigators removed “paperwork.”

When asked about allegations of corruption, she seemed unfazed. “This city’s [been] freaking crazy since I remember.”

 

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Heather Willson, a resident of Maywood, stands up and applauses after City Council rejects the hiring of Arnaldo Beltran. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

The 2016 Audit

In 2016, the California State Auditor released a report that labeled Maywood a “High Risk” city due to substantial problems with its finances and operations. The city reported a general fund deficit for six straight years leading up to the report, which had totaled over 15 million as of June 2015. Financial statements by the city omitted critical information.

The report cites a lack of transparency in regards to hiring of administrators and awarding city contracts. The city repeatedly violated the Brown Act, which requires local legislative bodies to hold open meetings with posted agendas when deliberating on issues that dramatically affect government operations. This would include the hiring of a city manager. Between December 2015 and May 2016, State Auditors documented 6 violations of the Brown Act, 3 of which involved hiring.

At last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, chants of “Brown Act” could be heard from disgruntled residents.

On that night Michael Montgomery, City Attorney, recommended the hiring of Arnaldo Beltran as interim City Manager to replace Martinez. Councilmember Edwardo De La Riva asked Montgomery who he had conferred with on the council before making this recommendation. Montgomery stated he had spoken with one member of the council. De La Riva went on to question why they didn’t have a lengthier hiring process in which numerous candidates could be vetted. Medina took it to a vote and to the surprise of some, Medina was not able to secure a majority vote.

The council has had a track record of approving contracts that did not undergo a competitive bidding process.

According to the audit, “Maywood frequently used a noncompetitive process to contract for vital city services, and thus it has not ensured the cost‑effectiveness of those services.” Normal procedure entails a city issuing a R.F.P. (Request for Proposal) where the city specifies what is required for a potential contract. The proposal is then posted publicly or sent to multiple vendors who bid for the contract. Ideally, the most cost efficient bid is selected. Contracted services that did not undergo this process in Maywood include: law enforcement, special legal counseling, and accounting. In the case of engineering contacts, auditors found that the city’s R.F.P. lacked detail that would have allowed for vendors to submit informed bids thereby invalidating the competitive bid process.

ECM Group Engineering & Construction Management received a contract from Maywood in May of 2016. This followed the abrupt firing of Willdan Group, Inc. without any reason given. ECM did not undergo a competitive bidding process. They lobbied the council aggressively, making a legal campaign contribution of $250 to one of the councilmembers, and providing a promotional packet to the city manager that included a letter of recommendation to hire ECM written in the manager’s name for him to issue to the city council. The city manager informed the council that he had not written the letter. This contracting of ECM all occurred while they were being investigated by the city of South El Monte for overbilling the city, including logging 27-hour days for its employees. Maywood allowed ECM to begin work without even acquiring a written contract.

 

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Mayor Roman Medina stands alone next to an American flag during a presentation made by Ray Mirzabegian about commercial cannabis in the city of Maywood. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Other reasons for the City’s poor financial condition include officer misconduct lawsuits stemming from the now defunct Maywood Police Department and wasteful spending. In 2009, a report issued by then California State Attorney General Jerry Brown found that the Maywood P.D. had regularly engaged in practices that deprived people of their constitutional rights. Along with improper staffing, city oversight, and record keeping, the report found that the culture of Maywood P.D. was one of “sexual innuendo, harassment, vulgarity, [and] discourtesy to members of the public.”

An example of wasteful spending includes the City Council issuing itself $250 a month automatically in travel expense reimbursements. State Auditors found this to be largely unnecessary for a city that only totals 1.18 sq miles. “Using the current federal reimbursement rate of 54 cents per mile,” the report reads, “We calculated that to justify the full payment for mileage, each elected official would have to drive 463 miles every month, an equivalent of a round trip between Maywood and Fresno.”

Councilmember De La Riva stopped accepting the travel reimbursement a few months after it was introduced. “We already receive a monthly stipend,” says De La Riva. “That should be enough to cover every travel that we have.”

Controversy, Clowns, Civic Participation

Despite its small size, the City of Maywood is one of the most densely populated cities in Southern California with around 30,000 residents. Maywood has the 2nd highest Latino majority in L.A. county at 96.4%. It received national attention in 2006 when it became a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants, quickly resulting in the ire of right-wing pundits and protesters. 46.1% of residents are foreign born, according to Census figures from 2016.

 

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ET Snell, a local political activist, who lists his name as “I am a Clown” during public comment. He told the Council that he was assisting Mayor Roman Medina with bringing retail marijuana to Maywood. Snell was upset about a bingo hall that was rejected. Snell is being investigated by the District Attorney.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Edwin T. Snell is the clown-costumed activist referenced earlier. Initially a supporter of Medina, Snell was one of the speakers at the most recent City Council meeting calling on him to step down. Snell claims he told the mayor “I’ll be glad to help you do recalls.” Recalls in Maywood occurring from 2015 thru 2017 are currently being investigated by the D.A. Snell says that he and Medina had a falling out after plans for a bingo hall on city property fell through. A percentage of the profits were going to go to Snell’s nonprofit organization.

Mr. Snell says he has initiated some 22 recalls of politicians all over Southern California. He likes to repeats a classic adage: “Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

Both City Clerk Gerado Mayagoitia and Councilmember Edwardo De La Riva claim to have been targeted by the Mayor in 2016 recalls because they were obstacles to his questionable management of the city.

“They knew I had already talked to the press about some of the stuff that was going on that I saw that was wrong. They knew that I questioned everything that they did,” says De La Riva.

Mayagoitia claims to have been in contact with the D.A. since early 2017, alerting them to illegal activity in City Hall. He says about him and De La Riva: “We don’t play their game. We’re not the guys that look the other way.”

Oscar Magaña is a former Mayor and City Councilmember in Maywood. He is calling for the mayor and others being investigated on the council to step down. He believes low voter turn-out in Maywood is a factor in problems with city leadership. “It’s a very low turn-out,” says Magaña. “If people participated, and if people knew what was going on, I think they would make better decisions.”

The Sprawl will continue to report on the ongoing corruption investigations in Maywood.  

 

Protesters Gather Outside of Councilmember Huizar’s Office to Demand More Results for Homeless Housing

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

February 28, 2018 – Members of LA Catholic Worker forum in front of, Los Angeles Council Member; Jose Huizar’s Boyle Heights office, to demonstrate the development hold-ups on Prop HHH projects in the city.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Feb 28, 2018

Protesters with the Los Angeles Catholic Workers and other homeless advocacy groups gathered outside of the office of Councilmember Jose Huizar Tuesday afternoon. Protesters say they were there to put pressure on the Council-member, whose district includes both Boyle Heights and Skid Row, to create more permanent housing for the homeless.

Signs outside of Huizar’s office read: “House Keys Not Hand-Cuffs”; “150 Vacant Buildings on Skid Row”; “⅕ People Arrested In LA are Unhoused”.

Los Angeles Voters passed measure HHH in 2016, an initiative that authorizes $1.2 Billion in bond money to fund homeless housing, with a two-thirds majority. Last December, the city began construction in East Hollywood on the first project funded with the money.

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

Jeff Dedrick, a member of LA Catholic Worker, sits on in front of Jose Huizar’s office, holding a sign that reads; “How many homes did we trade for a $3.5 Billion Jail.”  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

But protesters believe the money from HHH is not hitting the streets quick enough to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. “If you have a crisis, you can’t wait around like 7 years finding a solution. And I think there clearly is a problem” says Teresa, who works at the Los Angeles Catholic Workers’ soup kitchen in Skid Row.

According to a homeless count released last year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Los Angeles County has 57,794 homeless individuals, up 23% from 2016.

The protest is meant to show solidarity with Kaleb Havens, a fellow Catholic Worker who is staging a hunger strike in Skid Row. He is currently chained to a fence near 5th and Gladys during the season of Lent, foregoing solid foods to demand the city use eminent domain to confiscate some 150 vacant properties in Skid Row and use them for housing homeless residents.

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

A group of twelve members of, Los Angeles Catholic Worker demonstrate in front of Jose Huizar’s 14th District Field Office, The LACW will be protesting every Wednesday during lent to voice their frustrations on the development of housing for the homeless.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

“Sometimes meetings and photo opportunities are just excuses for them to do nothing” says Matt Harper, one of the protest organizers, about city leaders. “The most important thing to do is put pressure on them.”

Along with allocating more permanent housing, protesters would like to see law enforcement abandon tactics they see as predatory. These include citing the homeless for minor offenses such as loitering and littering. These policies amount to a criminalization of poverty according to some homeless advocates.

Harper noted that this protest was not merely done in Boyle Heights because it is the location of Huizar’s district office.  

“Boyle Heights has its own struggle around gentrification so we’re here try to call for greater affordable housing for all people and not just development that displaces people in this community.”

Protesters plan on coming back weekly until the end of Lent.

Taking It To The Streets: Rent Control Movements in Four Southern Californian Cities

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Feb 21, 2018

Rents are on the rise in Southern California.

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that in 2015, 57.1% of residents of the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area were paying over 30% of their income on housing. 31.8% were paying over 50% of their income on housing. A forecast released last year by USC’s Casden Real Estate Center predicts that rents will only be getting higher. By 2019, the average monthly rent in Los Angeles County will increase from 2,237 to 2,373, a 6% increase from 2017.  

Housing advocates in Long Beach, Inglewood, Pasadena, and Glendale are working to place rent control on the November ballot in the hopes of curbing these increases.

“Rent control” commonly refers to regulations set in place to cap the amount a landlord can charge a tenant for rent. Along with price ceilings for how much rent increases, these laws often include acceptable reasons for a landlord to terminate a tenancy known as just-cause, and some form of independent body that enforces these laws and settles disputes between landlords and tenants.

In Southern California 4 cities already have rent control: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and the City of Los Angeles.

Currently, the State of California has two laws that restrict cities’ abilities to enact rent control. The Costa-Hawkins Act, passed in 1995, limits rent control in 2 ways. First, it limits the types of units that can be rent controlled. Single-family homes, condos, and newly-constructed units are all exempt. Second, it bars “vacancy control” meaning that when a unit becomes vacant, a landlord can charge whatever rate a new tenant is willing to pay.

The Ellis Act, enacted in 1986, allows landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled units if they decide to remove them from the rental market. Typically, these units are repurposed for condos, demolition, or hotels.

Along with local rent control initiatives, housing advocates are attempting to repeal Costa-Hawkins with a state-wide proposition this fall. This comes after AB 1506, a bill that would have repealed the Act, failed to pass in the California State Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee by one vote. One of the bill’s authors, Richard Bloom-D of Santa Monica, told the committee: “We have to be frank with one another, new units in sufficient quantities will take years to build. In the meantime, the current dramatic shortage of units contributes to rapidly escalating rents in much of the state, affecting a vast range of Californians on a daily basis, from young to old across all ethnic groups and even including those holding good, middle-income jobs”.

Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the organizations behind the propositions, said on their website: “While the bill to repeal Costa Hawkins is dead in the capital, the movement to repeal Costa Hawkins is just getting started in the streets!”

Let’s take a look at the various local rent control initiatives underway in the Southland:

For Rent

For Rent, signs can be seen almost everywhere on the back streets of neighborhoods in Long Beach, CA. These four images, taken on a single block in Belmont Heights.

Long Beach

According to the site Zillow, the median rate for an apartment is 2,200, up 10% from last year. Organizers at Housing Long Beach are hoping to stop this increase with their initiative “The Long Beach Fair Rent, Just-Cause for Eviction, and Home Owner Protection Ordinance”. They’ll need to collect signatures from 10% of the city’s registered voters, about 27,000 total, to make it on the November 2018 ballot.

Housing advocates see the situation of rising rents as dire for low-income residents. About 20% of Long Beach lives in poverty, according to the most recent figures by the U.S. Census Bureau. “We’ve had folks who have received 55% rent increases with a 60-day notice,” said Benyamin Chao, an organizer with Housing Long Beach. “To us, that’s basically an eviction notice because those people are not able to pay that rent.”

“There was one person who came in a few months ago who had an 85% rent increase,” says Jordan Wynne of Housing Long Beach. “Landlords are taking advantage of the open market we have here.”

Wynne says they based their initiative, in part, on rent control initiatives successfully passed in Northern California in 2016. Voters in Richmond and Mountain view approved rent control while voters in Burlingame, San Mateo, and Alameda rejected it. “We saw that as a great opportunity to start mobilizing and really get this rent control movement started in Long Beach,” said Wynne.

Like ordinances in Mountain View and Richmond, Housing Long Beach’s initiative includes just-cause. These reasons for a just-cause eviction include failure to pay rent, breach of lease, owner’s decision to move into the unit themselves, or removal of the entire property from the rental market. As it currently stands, a landlord in Long Beach can choose to evict their tenant for any reason whatsoever. Initiatives in Pasadena and Inglewood also feature just-cause.

According to Housing Long Beach, they initially tried to get just-cause passed through the City Council in 2016. Wynne says that after several discussion with members of the council, a floor vote was pulled at the last second. “The councilmembers have done little to alleviate either of these problems [rent increases, unfair evictions],” says Wynne, “our efforts to work with them have not been very fruitful.” This failure led them to take their case to voters directly.

This lack of cooperation from the council plays into a larger narrative viewed by many housing advocates of elected city officials being non-supportive of tenants rights.

“If they were truly standing with renters” Chao opines, “each individual council member (especially those in district 1 and district 2 who have very large renter majorities) would be taking much more leadership on this issue.”

The website LBReport released an email sent by neighborhood organizer and real estate broker Robert Fox who was preparing to run against Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia is running for re-election in November. In the email, Fox told supporters that after having discussions with the mayor in which Garcia assured him he would oppose any attempt at Rent Control he had decided against waging a challenge. “Our unanimous opposition to Rent Control was one of our critical issues,” the email reads. “[Tonight he will] announce his opposition to Rent Control and some reasons for his position.”

Many activists saw this as proof of a backroom deal struck by the Mayor that is ultimately to the detriment of economically vulnerable residents. Garcia responded in an emailed statement: “We don’t believe that rent control works, or is the right solution. Just look at rent-controlled cities like San Francisco, the most expensive market in the country.” Fox later clarified in an email response: “I did not make him give us something for me not running. I was there to discuss our issues, and we did.”

 

Rent Control

Jordan Wynne, a community organizer for Housing Long Beach, sits at his headquarters in downtown Long Beach to discuss a current charter amendment for rent control in the city of Long Beach. Wynne works alongside his colleague Benyamin Chao and Executive Director, Josh Butler. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Inglewood

The City of Champions is once again being championed by developers.

Inglewood has seen a rash of new development as of late and with it, rapidly increasing property values. $2 Billion has been invested in an extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Line, connecting Inglewood with downtown and making the city more appealing to commuters. 2.66 billion has gone into the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District, home to The Rams and The Chargers. The median home value has gone up 13.8% from last year according to Zillow.

The stadium is expected to generate 25 million annually in new tax revenue, according to UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate Executive Director Tim Kawahara–a windfall for a city that nearly went bankrupt a couple of years back.

But while homeowners are enjoying their growing equity and city leadership enjoys fattening coffers, Inglewood’s renters are feeling the pinch. From September 2016 thru August 2017, the median rental price in Inglewood increased 20% according to the website Trulia.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development found 38% of Inglewood renters were paying over 30% of their income on housing in 2013. 32% paid over 50% of their income on housing. A majority of the city rents; 65.3% of housing units are rentals according to the 2016 Census.

“The community was changing with the stadium coming,” said Derek Steele, an organizer with Uplift Inglewood. Uplift Inglewood was created to “make sure the culture is preserved and the people have a place to make choices about staying or leaving rather than just being uprooted.”

Uplift Inglewood is a coalition of community and faith-based organizations as well as businesses. They are sponsoring “The Inglewood Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act.” They’ll need signatures from 15% of Inglewood’s registered voters, roughly 15,000, to make it the ballot.

“We want to make sure that progress happens but it all includes the people who have been the mainstays and who have held it down in the city when it was in the down times,” says Steele.

Steele says that Inglewood Mayor James Butts takes a “normalized” view of the gentrification currently happening in the city. According to Steele, displacement and gentrification is just “the cost of doing business” for Butts.

Mayor Butts has been in public service for over 40 years. He served in the Inglewood Police Department for over 19 years and was Chief of Santa Monica P.D. for 15 years. He was first elected mayor in 2011 when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. That year, Inglewood had an estimated $17.6 million deficit. Butts and the Council laid off workers and issued pay cuts. Since then, Inglewood has restored competitive pay for city employees and has received an upgraded credit rating of A1 from Moody’s.

Butts has taken a significant leadership role in the development, often touting his accomplishments. He negotiated a deal with Madison Square Garden to renovate the Forum, turning it into the number 1 venue in the Los Angeles Area within a year of its opening. The Los Angeles Stadium will be the largest arena in professional football at 3 million square feet. Part of its agreement with the city requires that 30% of those employed for construction live within a 5-mile radius of the site. Century Boulevard and Market Street have both seen significant re-development with the latter being spear-headed by Thomas Saffron at a $100 million price tag.  

Gentrification isn’t happening, according to Butts, because new wealthier residents are buying into middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods at premium rates, not low-income neighborhoods displacing long-time residents in the process. And it’s long-time Inglewood residents who are benefiting. He eagerly points out in an interview with The Los Angeles Sentinel that by the middle of 2017, property values had risen 102% since the end of 2012.

As far as increased rents are concerned, they are the result of an improving market. “There is nothing unique about having prosperity and inflated housing values and some people are priced out of neighborhoods,” Butts said in a panel at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. “Sometimes you just have to embrace success and take it how it comes.”

Unlike Pasadena, Long Beach, and Glendale, Uplift Inglewood decided to make their rental board an elected body. “We want to make sure we’re putting the power in the hands of the people,” says Steele. There will be five members (one from each city council district and one elected at-large) who will serve 4-year terms with a max of 3 terms. The board will act independently of the city council.

The other cities will have rental boards appointed by the City Council, with stipulations as to who can serve.  The boards would include five members: two would be landlords, two would be tenants, and one would be neither. Glendale’s ordinance goes further in stipulating that one of the renters must live in a unit priced at or below the median rate. Mike Van Gorder, a captain with the Glendale Tenants Union, says this will prevent renter representation on the board from being occupied by a renter of a luxury apartment whose perspective might not reflect lower income residents.

Nicole Hodgson, executive director of the Pasadena Tenants Union: “The reason we went with the appointed board is [so] we can make stipulations as to who gets the positions and who doesn’t.” City elections (especially those with low turnout) often come down to who has the money to run, Hodgson points out. “The fear was that [if elected] it would be a board that was not of the people.”

Rent Control

Allison Henry, working with Pasadena Tenants Union, takes to the streets after her 9 to 5 job, to inform her community about rent control and to ask them to sign a petition if in favor of rent control in their community. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Pasadena

James Clark is an Army Veteran and retired school teacher for the LA Unified School District. He lives in a row house in Pasadena’s Historic Highland Neighborhood, close to Altadena. He joined the Pasadena Tenants Union in August of last year.

“I’d been sick of hearing these horror stories,” Clark says. He contacted Nicole Hodgson and has been a member ever since.

At last year’s State of the City address, Clark asked Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek bluntly what was being done about rent control.

“There is no support on the city council, as near as I can tell, for rent control. I object to rent control for a series of reasons, not the least of which is that I think it will deter the production of new housing, drives rent up, and offers a good deal, sort of a lottery ticket for the few people that benefit from it,” Tornek responded matter-of-factly.

“In November it was 50$. In 2016 it was $100. In 2015 it was $75,” Clark says of his rent increases. Currently, he is paying $1350 a month in rent. New tenants in his building are paying $1500 for similar units. Even with his pension and Social Security, Clark is still paying over 1/3 of his income on rent. He’s able to handle the increases now, but he’s worried that if they keep rising at the same rate, he won’t be able to hold on to his apartment.

If the Pasadena Tenants Union is successful, rent increase percentages will be determined by the rental board. The increase will be dependent upon the Consumer Price Index with a max of 4.5%. The C.P.I. charts changes in the prices paid by the average consumer for everyday goods and services. It’s used by government and industry to determine inflation. Long Beach’s proposal places the max at 100% of the C.P.I.  Glendale’s rent increases would be capped at 4%.

In June of 2014, the median price for a 1-bedroom in Pasadena was $1,898. That’s up from 2,248 in June of 2017, an 18.4% increase, according to Zillow.

Nicole Hodgson describes some of the extreme cases the P.T.U. has encountered: “Folks [were] coming in in dire situations. Receiving a rent increase of $300 and then three months later, getting another one for $500.” The individual stories were beginning to have a pattern.

“They were either given a 60-day notice to move and vacate or a rental increase,” Hodgson recounts. “Someone might have been renting an apartment for 40 years and is now in retirement on a fixed income, all of a sudden [they’re] getting levied even a $1000 rent increase. So it was that that really made us decide that this is a housing crisis of epic proportions and we really need to act now.”

Like their counterparts in Inglewood and Long Beach, they found little responsiveness from city hall. Alison Henry is also a member of the P.T.U. She met with her Councilmember, John J. Kennedy of Pasadena’s 3rd district, to inform him about dramatic rent increases she and a few of her neighbors experienced in March of 2017. She got a 20% increase, and according to Henry, her neighbors were dealing with 55-60% increases. In their building, out of 16 units, 13 turned over.

“One of them had a mom, a teenage daughter,” Alison recounts. “[In] Like a year… out.”

She showed Kennedy the rent increases to alert him to their situation. “The first thing he says is ‘Wow! My tenants aren’t paying enough’” Henry claims.

Councilmember Kennedy responded in an email to The Sprawl: “I assure [you] that my response was not the insensitive comment Ms. Henry has repeated.”

“We moved forward with the charter amendment to actually give this to the city to make the decision regarding our housing policy because at this point, it’s not being listened to [by City Hall]” says Hodgson.

Rent Control

Nicole Hodgson with Pasadena Tenants Union walks towards the next house that she will be collecting signatures and speak with local Pasadenans about the rent control. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Glendale

The city of Glendale has wrestled with rent control for some time now.

A Los Angeles Times article dating back to 1986 voiced the concerns of seniors who were feeling the crunch of rising housing costs. Newly constructed high-rise offices and a scarcity of residential units were contributing to soaring rents. Real estate developers were buying up single-family homes as quickly as they so they could to turn them into multi-unit apartments. From 1980 to 1990, the population jumped 29.5%. A common So Cal trajectory was unfolding: a once quiet suburb was transforming into a bustling, small city. “Why is there no rent control in Glendale?” asked one of the seniors.

Some 30 years later and Mike Van Gorder is asking himself the same question.

“We’re in a crisis,” he says, sitting in a trendy coffee shop in Downtown Glendale.

According to Zillow, the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Glendale in December of 2016 was 1,897. In December of 2017, the median for a 1-bedroom was 2,279. That’s a 20.1% increase in a year.

The Glendale Tenants Union’s efforts come on the heels of a failed effort last year to get a rent control ordinance to the voters. It was undertaken by two retirees but was ultimately rejected by the State of California for not meeting election standards. They spliced together two existing rent control ordinances and wrote the proposal themselves. There were some serious errors: they didn’t have the full text of the ordinance, they didn’t have a summary above the signature line, signatures were submitted that had been pasted to other petitions. “The short-hand for all of this is that they didn’t get legal support,” concludes Van Gorder.  

“[They formed] a coalition that would eventually put together 11,000 signatures.” Van Gorder points out that this is especially impressive because 11,000 signatures are more total voters (if in fact, the signatures represent actual registered voters in the city of Glendale) than the highest vote earners in the most recent City Council election. Councilmember Ara James Najarian got the highest amount with 9,962 votes. Mike Van Gorder ran unsuccessfully himself, securing 3,148 votes.

While collecting signatures for the original proposal, Van Gorder “ran into people who were in the process of moving out because they had gotten these huge rent increases. Like literally three families, families that I ran across putting stuff in moving boxes.”

“I wish we had had this last year because if we did then I would’ve been able to stay and my kid’s coulda stayed in the school with their friends” Van Gorder remembers them telling him.  

Currently, Glendale has just-cause with an exemption for lease agreements that are at least one year long. If the ordinance passes, this exemption will be eliminated.

In a joint session with the Glendale Housing Authority, the City Council met in August of 2016 to discuss strategies for dealing with affordable housing. One of the ideas floated was requiring landlords to offer a yearly-lease to tenants. This would offer tenants the security of knowing what their rent would be for a full twelve months, avoiding a 60-day notice of a rent increase they can’t afford. No action has been taken on this idea thus far.

Then-councilmember and current mayor Vartan Gharpetian spoke bluntly about the situation, saying there is a problem with dramatic rent increases that requires an expedited solution.

“We need to come up with a solution to take the load off of the people who cannot adjust their lives within 60 days to pay 5, 6, $700 of $1000 more in rent,” Gharapetian said.  

Gharpetian himself is a real estate broker. If he’s acknowledging a problem, he points out, there really is a problem. “This is about the predatory ways rents are going up.”

Similar to the way in which many office units are leased, Gharpetian believes that these 1-year leases should include an option for renewal that will establish what the rent increase will be in the next year so that “you can set your life up, 2, 3 years in advance.”

The Glendale Tenants Union’s proposal would create an ordinance that would have similar effects as the other initiatives: cap rents, establish a rental board, expand just-cause. As opposed to Inglewood and Pasadena though, which are passing charter amendments which then require another charter amendment to be reversed, Glendale’s ordinance can be repealed a year after its passing.

So what’s stopping the Glendale City Council, which is not supportive of rent control, to undo the ordinance after a year?

“If they do so, they’re doing so against the wishes of a majority of their city which will sink their re-election odds,” says Van Gorder. “It’d set up a platform for activists like me to take over the government.”

 

Opposition

City officials aren’t the only ones who oppose rent control.

Apartment associations, organizations that represent the interests of apartment owners and real estate developers, pour tons of resources into fighting any new form of regulation within their industry.

Most recently, The California Apartment Association took an active role in defeating the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. Of the committee members that voted on the Costa-Hawkins repeal, four had received campaign contributions from apartment associations. One of the abstaining votes, Democrat Jim Woods out of Humboldt, received a contribution of 4,400 from the California Apartment Association for his 2018 re-election campaign.

Dan Yukelson, Executive Director of Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, acknowledges that there is an affordable housing crisis. Though it is perhaps not as invasive as many housing advocates claim.

“Some people are being priced out of their houses that they’ve been at for a long time. But the problem is rent control doesn’t help supply additional housing,” Yukelson argues. “In fact, it only discourages new development.”

Opponents of rent control often argue that by lowering the number of units priced at market values (or are available at all), the housing supply is lowered which increases demand which then results in an increase in market rates. “There is a shortage of housing. And what happens when you have a shortage in a capitalist society is prices go up. Demand is high and supply is low,” says Yukelson.

“Rent control also encourages housing providers to convert to condominiums.”

A study released late last year by two Stanford economists found that Rent Control may have actually accelerated gentrification in San Francisco. San Francisco has had rent control since 1994. Its ordinance closely mirrors those being proposed in Southern California. They found that landlords affected by rent control decreased their rentable units by 30% since 1994. This was largely a result of landlords converting their buildings into condos or single-family homes, unit types that are prevented from being rent controlled by state law.  

The study also found that renters of rent-controlled units save, on average, between $2,300 and $6,600 a year from cheaper rent.

Yukelson believes that one of the solutions to affordable housing is government subsidies, not price ceilings. He supports programs where apartment owners get tax vouchers to offer affordable units for a finite amount of time. This incentivizes the creation of affordable units rather than legally constricting an existing unit to keep it affordable.

Orange County’s Forbidden City

Author: Chris Rusnaowsky / Feb 1, 2018

 

Video Credit: Camilo Ramirez

One of the largest encampments in the United States stands on a flood control riverbed near Anaheim Stadium, California. The growing numbers of makeshift camps have caught attention from the public and city officials. This encampment stretches over 6 miles from the Santa Ana River Trail to Ball Road and has over 500 campers on the county property.

On January 22, 2018, the OC Sheriffs department started the eviction process of the homeless encampment. “We’re not going to come in with an Army of Deputies and force everybody off in 24 hours,” said Undersheriff Don Barnes at press conference. City employees could be seen conducting a routine collection of orange trash bags that were provided to the homeless and loading them in the back of trucks to keep control of waste build ups.

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Orange County workers collect orange trash bags, that was placed by the homeless residents for disposal. 01/22/2018 Anaheim, CA – Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The Sheriff’s department posted eviction notices on encampments and fence poles to inform the homeless that the eviction would take place on January 22nd. “I saw the notices, but did not read it.” one homeless woman said. Later in the afternoon, some homeless campers started making preparations to move. A man working on a small go-kart engine said he was away from his camp for a week and was unaware of the eviction. As he primed the small engine and pulled to start, he said: “I don’t know where I will go and don’t know what to do with my belongings.”

A number of shelters and organizations have teamed up with the counties eviction by offering services to the homeless. A county contractor by the name of City Net has helped 171 people with case management services according to the data provided by the county. Beds are offered to the homeless at Courtyard Shelter in Santa Ana and Bridges at Kraemer in Anaheim year around.

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Ishmael Haring, from Kanas City, Kanas, has been living on the Anaheim Encampment for a year. Ishmael moved to Southern California for College in business. After struggling with a drug addiction he found himself living on the streets. Ishmael is focusing on positive things in his life, such as a film he is making called; “Empire of Ghosts” using a smartphone to document the encampment and the people living in it. 01/22/2018 Anaheim, CA – Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

With the issue of a short number of beds available, a season emergency shelter called Fullerton Armory has offered 237-floor mats, warm meals, showers and a shuttle service to transport the homeless to the Armory before operation hours. Mercy House told us that only one individual has used the shuttle, but that a large line is formed at 7 pm, the armories opening hour.

This begs the question: Where will the remaining homeless go? “There are 35 counties that enforce anti-camping ordinance and criminalize sleeping in public spaces” Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst and advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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MJ, was a profession commercial diver at one point of his life. In 2009 he was shot in the head with a .44 mm bullet, by an home intruder and survived. He was unable to work after that the tragedy, being out of work lead MJ to live in the encampment for two years.

MJ, a commercial welding diver that lost his job after being shot in the head during a house invasion in 2009.“I refuse to stay in a place that runs like a dictatorship,” he said. “Telling me when to sleep, when to eat, when to use the restroom and when I can leave. That’s not what my forefathers and kinfolk bled and died for. They don’t want to see us in the parks, by the malls so where are we supposed to go?”

Homeless advocates have sued Orange County. The Lawsuit was filed by the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center. The lawsuit accuses the county of violating the Civil Rights of the homeless. Advocates hope to stopping the clearance until there’s enough housing for the homeless. Todd Spitzer, a California State Assembly Member, stated in a previous press hearing that he expected to be sued after the clearance. Spitzer said his data reveals the homeless don’t want services. Homeless advocates dispute the Sheriff’s statistics that 81% of homeless are interested in case management services that lead to housing.

Restrooms and Retorts: The Skid Row ReFresh Spot

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Jan 31, 2018

In most neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the opening of a public restroom is unlikely to get much media attention. Skid Row, a 50 block district in the eastern section of downtown, is unlike most neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Of the counties 57,794 homeless people, Skid Row is home to 4,633 of them. That means that while accounting for only .0001% of the county’s total land area, Skid Row holds about 8% percent of the homeless population.

An audit done by the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Skid Row Community Residents and Partners found that the number of available restrooms for Skid Row’s homeless population is less than that offered in a Syrian refugee camp. The audit, titled “No Place to Go”, found between the hours of 6pm and 6am there are 9 restrooms available for some 1,777 people living on the streets of Skid Row. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees sets their sanitation standards at 1 toilet for every 20 people. At night, Skid Row is short of the UN’s sanitation standards by 80 toilets. During the day, when homeless shelters release their occupants and the number of people on the streets increases, that number jumps and Skid Row falls short of the standard by 164 toilets.

A lack of bathrooms and hygiene facilities is believed to have been a huge factor in a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A. On September 9th, 2017, the LA County Department of Public Health declared an outbreak of the disease. The disease affects the liver and can be severe. It is transmitted by fecal contact with an infected person. The biggest affected community are the homeless, followed by service providers for the homeless. From their statement: “The hepatitis A virus can spread when a person does not properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers… People who are homeless are at higher risk because they face challenges to maintaining good hygiene.”

The city responded by opening the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. Located on Crocker Street between 5th and 6th, the Skid Row ReFresh Spot offers 8 restrooms and 6 showers broken up into 2 separate facilities for men and women. It’s staffed full-time with a mix of volunteers and paid staff who are both male and female. The staff includes Skid Row community members and residents. The space is inviting with plants, music, and a seating area for residents to lounge and socialize. The Skid Row ReFresh Spot is open 32 hours a week from 5 to 1pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 1 to 9pm on Thursdays, and on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm.

Evans Clark manages the facility and is an employee of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that has been contracted by the city to provide the service. “I’m from the Skid Row area and they needed someone from the Skid Row Community to kinda come in and oversee the project”.  

“Daily we provide showers, we provide shower kits, they can use the toilets.” He said that on average, they see 75 to 80 people. On the whole, they’ve received positive feedback. Clark says they plan to eventually expand the hours and also add three new trailers. “One’s gonna be for showers only. The other one’s gonna be for the bathrooms. And one’s for the washers and dryers.” He thinks that once this expansion is complete, there will be constant traffic of visitors.

The city has invested 1.8 million into the project. “We have to do everything possible to help people stay healthy and live with the dignity that each one of us deserves,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti at the opening. “Homelessness is a crisis of housing and public health — and the ReFresh Spot shows that when the community and City work together, we can help the most vulnerable Angelenos meet their most basic human needs.”

“People from the mayor’s office attends our meetings,” Clark says. The city interfaces with the center daily: “Emails, meetings, phone calls, text messages.”

Councilmember Jose Huizar introduced the motion to secure funding for the project, pulling from the city’s general fund and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s budget. Huizar represents the 14th District which includes Skid Row. “This will be more than a hygiene center,” Huizar said. “Our aim is to give the residents of Skid Row a sense of hope and dignity that better days are possible while we also take action to protect them from the spread of Hepatitis A. Today is not the end of our efforts. It is just the beginning, but it represents a critical first-step.”

Louise Mbella “Sinai”, known in the community as ‘Frenchy’, is a community organizer and advocate for homeless rights. She contributed to the bathroom audit and was involved in the planning of the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. “We wanted to make sure that the concept, everything behind the hygiene center… respect[s] the lives of the people unsheltered [and] on the streets.” According to “Sinai”, the city was sensitive to the Skid Row community’s discomfort with officials and law enforcement in handling security. “They picked a security company that’s been dealing with communities that are in need, that are poverty stricken… They know to de-escelate not just say ok put your hands up. [They know to] not use physical force unnecessarily.”

Not everyone is so pleased with the Skid Row ReFresh Spot however. General Dogon is a human rights organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network. LA CAN is known to butt heads with City officials and the L.A.P.D. over what they perceive as a long history of neglect and abuse towards Skid Row’s homeless on the part of the state. At the opening, General Dogon ripped up a certificate given to him by the city as appreciation for LA CAN’s involvement in the creation of the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. “This award is just like the mayor and his cronies. Worthless” he said while standing at a podium inches away from Garcetti. “These toilets you bringing, it’s 10 years too late and it’s 300 too short!”

General Dogon spoke with The Sprawl and added context to this last point. In 2012, he points out, the LA County Department of Public Health issued a report ordering the city to clean up Skid Row. One of their recommendations was more public restrooms and handwashing stations to deal with piles of human waste and other biohazards that were accumulating throughout Skid Row.

“According to the United Nations, we needed 382 toilets to get out of the crisis situation that we in,” says General Dogon. “The Mayor’s office thought that delivering 6 temporary toilets in a toilet crisis where almost 50 times that much is needed, that that would be acceptable… I am not impressed.”