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How Los Angeles Keeps the Poor, Poor

VOICES--Of the 15 Council Districts in Los Angeles, there are a few that house the most homeless and have the poorest people.

Those Districts are 3, 4, and 15, seeing a jump from 45-53% in homelessness, while other Districts had an increase of 10-30%

I live in CD 15, Joe Buscaino’s district. The Harbor and the Port are located here, one of the three big moneymakers for the City of LA. The harbor area communities, however, do not get much benefit from Port income- it does not come back into San Pedro and Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway. Watts, bless its heart, is the outlier of the District, and also gets short shrift from the City. They currently are wanting to either be attached to a different District or secede altogether from Los Angeles. We are, collectively, what is called, a “donor city”. We pay for services that are given to other, more affluent areas of LA.

San Pedro and Wilmington have a large population of immigrant people who speak little or no English, have little in the way of job skills, and have low-paying, entry level jobs- if they are employed at all. These community members are afraid to stand up for themselves for fear of deportation or some type of retribution. Housing is ridiculously expensive forcing many people to live crowded into small apartments in the “projects”.

Currently, when one exits the Vincent Thomas Bridge onto Harbor Blvd, one is greeted by a large tented homeless shelter. The City is purchasing the building directly across the street from the shelter to build more homeless housing. These homeless shelters are literally next door to Rancho San Pedro- low income housing built in the WW2 era.

Next to that is a hotel, now being used for Project Turnkey- more homeless housing. And a block or so away from that is the former mental health facility which has been turned into yet more homeless housing. Directly across the street, headed towards the historic Post Office is where the tents begin. Tents and trash and excrement and rotting food and junkies with weapons, mixed with early release prisoners with nowhere to go, and mentally ill trying to cope by drugging themselves into oblivion.

Well over a mile of tents and homeless shelters and projects leading tourists to  what was once Ports ‘O Call, a quaint little waterfront village of shops and restaurants, torn down and under construction in it’s latest iteration of an unappealing public market that has a name change every other week it seems. The most recent renderings show the once picturesque area being replaced by shipping containers converted into restaurants in Phase One.

The once well-funded project has had its budget slashed and cheap structures are planned for creating a “tourist attraction”. Envision a tourist coming into San Pedro for a day. Maybe they plan to see the USS IOWA, which is slated to be moved further down the harbor, closer to the SS Lane Victory. What are they seeing on their way into town? They go down Harbor Blvd, past homeless shelters, “projects” (low income housing that has seen better days), and tents with trash surrounding them to get to their destination. Upon arriving, they eat in a restaurant which was once a large container. It may be novel once, but most people are not going to make a return trip.

What could possibly entice tourists, especially those on a cruise ship, to come into a town with lots of closed stores, seedy people, drug paraphernalia littering the streets, and a rising crime rate? The cruise ships do not want their passengers going into San Pedro because it is too dangerous, and they are liable. Our fragile little local economy is so thin as to be almost non-existent.

San Pedro also has over 95 sober living facilities. (Palos Verdes has none, Torrance has 10.) Some are larger, and some are 6-packs (6 or less paying guests) with many out of compliance, and rarely monitored by the oversight agencies that inspect and check for compliance. In many of these places, “guests” roam the streets, out of their heads, many drugged out, sometimes taking off their clothes and walking naked. One place that finds placement and housing for homeless is Harbor Interfaith Services. They have the Herculean job of finding a place for the homeless of OTHER beach cities and, are paid to take them out of those more affluent communities, and house them in places like San Pedro and Wilmington. We take on the burden of other communities, adding more people with no income to patronize businesses here. And did I mention the over 500 low-income units also scheduled to be built in downtown San Pedro? And nearly as many being constructed in Wilmington.

The City Council, with no conscience, continues to pile more homeless into a small community at the end of the freeway, out of sight of most of LA. They do it because, once elected, stakeholders have no say or control over what councilmembers do IN THEIR NAME.

Looking at the current worth of councilmembers, many began their tenure with humble bank balances. Most are now worth many millions of dollars- “pay to play”- at taxpayers expense.

If you watch Council meetings, most voting is “bloc” style- amazingly, everyone votes the same, and have their minds made up before the public makes their “comments”. We, the stakeholders of San Pedro/Wilmington, are being screwed by the City Council, who, it appears, is not accountable to anyone but themselves. We have no say in how they vote, and frequently, have little access to what is being voted on unless a very sharp researcher, with lots of time to dig, makes public what is about to happen.

We were not able to vote on ANY of the homeless construction happening. Even with very vocal public outcry, we were ignored. There seems to be some level of pride in the council that they are able to ram projects through without having to ask for public input. And told we were heartless. I wonder how heartless the people of Redondo Beach, Beverly Hills, and other more affluent areas are? Or does their money just talk louder than the poor in a world port that is not world class for the people surrounding it?

(Gayle Fleury lives in Los Angeles Council District 15.)

-cw