LA School Kids and the Homeless: ‘Not My Problem’!

WELCOME TO CITY HALL--Hat tip to Lucy Han of Playa Del Rey and her group, FOTJ (Friends Of the The Jungle), for this one. 

The Issue--While both the City and the LAUSD are charged with maintaining a safe environment for our school children, it turns out they don’t talk to each other much, and the safety of our school children can be suspect when it comes to their interactions with the homeless. 

Aside from just living in LA, there are two circumstances under which our children can interact with the homeless -- going and coming to school, and going on field trips within the City. 

In terms of going and coming to school, the City of Los Angeles has a Municipal Code (Section 85.02) which says that the homeless cannot live within 500 feet of a public school or other “sensitive area” like a park. Okay, for the majority of students who get dropped off and picked up by car or bus, that’s fine. 

But it isn’t fine for those k-12 students walking to school across the 500 foot zone. And it isn’t as if the homeless population has any clue about the Municipal Code, or would care if they did know. 

The second major area where school kids can interact with the homeless population just happens to be in the Ballona Wetlands  in Playa Del Rey. 

It’s a major preserve that over 7000 school children visit each year, and the ingress and egress from there just happens to be a place where a large number of homeless hang out, “dwelling”in their vehicles and using the public restroom facilities. 

‘No, No, Not My Problem’--The FOTJ folks have been trying to use the political system to rectify this problem. First they reached out to Councilmember Mike Bonin (CD11), a veritable paragon of probity. He’s been running for re-election, but without any serious opposition, his re-election will be a lock by the time you read this. 

His Chief of Staff, Chad Molnar, did what politicians do -- he blew the issue off on the City Attorney. So there you have it: not Bonin’s problem. This is probably true, since Bonin’s real problem is bending over for every big developer in his District. See my article, It’s Called a Bonin.  Within that context, why indeed would he care about school children? 

Being stout of heart, the FOTJ folks went to the City Attorney’s Office. Since Friends of the Jungle is not the City Attorney’s client, they got what you would expect. A regurgitation of the Municipal Code. Chalk another one up to Feckless Feurer for caring. 

Finally, the FOTJ went to the ultimate power in LA City, Mayor Eric Garcetti who is all over TV and re-election mail, but largely absent in the wetlands. After being directed to the Mayor’s “Homeless Policy Director,” Alisa Orduna, they were told how wonderful the Mayor’s Healthy Streets Program is; she opined that if the FOTJ would just talk to the homeless, these people would say “cool” and leave. 

For the rest of it, she told them they should talk to their Councilmember. Right on. 

Finally, as of the deadline for this article, they have contacted their LAUSD representative, Steve Zimmer, so we won’t know the outcome until after the LAUSD election. For those who don’t know, Mr. Zimmer is under attack by the California Charter School Assn. folks (CCSA), led by none other than our former mayor, Richard Riordan. There are a number of candidates on the ballot, but the runoff will be with Charter favorite, Nick Melvoin – all fueled by millions of dollars spent on the District 4 race instead of education. 

Personally, I hope Zimmer wins. He actually pays attention to his District, and would likely see what he can do to help the school children who visit the Ballona Wetlands. 

The Disconnect--Only in LA do you find dichotomies like this. On the one hand, there are somewhere over 50,000 homeless youths in LA County, which is a scary number. At the same time, the LA Unified School District acknowledges somewhere around 15,000 students who are homeless, and even has a special homeless unit within the District to help them. 

So, on the one hand we have a significant homeless problem, and even the LAUSD student body has one as well. 

On the other hand, the City of Los Angeles and its City Attorney have this weird way of claiming to protect their student population in the LAUSD from adult homeless folks, many of whom have severe mental and physical health issues. 

It is pretty clear that the politicians at City Hall have no clue what they are doing about this, and it is equally clear that the bureaucracies of LA City and the LAUSD don’t coordinate or talk to each other. 

The Takeaway--By the time this column posts, we in Los Angeles will have approved yet another tax to help the homeless, Measure H, a new 1/4 cent sales tax for the County of Los Angeles. This is on top of the $1.2 billion LA City bond measure the voters approved in the November 8 General Election. 

For those who voted for Measure H without reading the fine print, the expenditure of its 1/4 cent sales tax for the next ten years is to “comply with the Approved Strategies to Combat Hopelessness,” a 130 page document that supposedly integrates with the 300 pages of the LA City Bond measure HHH. You can read about the County ballot measure here, including links to the details.

If the early results of the already implemented City Bond Measure (HHH) are any indication, with Measure H we will be once more throw money at a problem without a realistic chance of success in implementing this County measure. Check out this article 

At a recent LANCC meeting, we were told Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-54th AD) that once the number of homeless grows to much over 50,000 in LA, the problem rapidly becomes insurmountable. Well, by the time the November LA City Measure (HHH) was passed, I was told that the real number of homeless in LA was already well over 50,000 and climbing. As of this column, the results of a January recount were not available. 

The $1.2 billion in bonds that you and I will have to pay for are already a fizzle by all accounts. When we throw in the new 1/4 cent tax to address the overwhelming complexities of our homeless, all controlled by over 400 pages of bureaucratic “planning,” does anyone actually believe that the issue will really be ameliorated? 

Pardon my cynicism, but no wonder the City Hall elite can’t cope with helping 7000 school children avoid potential problems when interacting with the homeless parked at Ballona Wetlands. The LA City incumbents have won in a walk, and can now go back to their real business: approving every big real estate development they can find.

On the other hand, maybe Steve Zimmer will win the runoff for LAUSD seat 4. One can hope.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.