THE VIEW FROM HERE - In macabre way, the removal of the fence around Echo Park Lake should be interesting. The first question which comes to mind is, “Why?”
The fence was erected in March 2021 after the homeless were evicted from the park. The fence’s initial purpose was so that city workers could clean up encampments and rehab the park. That took about two months until late May 2021, but the fence did not come down upon the park’s reopening. Why? Obviously, to prevent homeless encampments from being re-established overnight. The city hired a 24 hour private security firm for the park. Does anyone in Los Angeles believe that without a fence, the encampments would have soon re-appear?
Has LA’s Homeless Problem Been Solved?
If Los Angeles no longer has a homeless problem, then there is no need for a fence. We are still under Mayor Bass’ Emergency Declaration, which Los Angeles city council recently extended to June 12, 2023. (March 1, 2023 City News Service) How can the city be under a Declaration of Emergency and contend that the homeless crisis is over?
Per City News Service, the extended emergency declaration states: “The mayor will have the ability to authorize the city administrative officer and departments to procure contracts related to construction contracts, service provider contracts and other supplies related to the emergency.”
Mayor’s Emergency Declaration Function is The Law
Let’s be clear an emergence declaration is a law and its extension is also the law. It does not authorize Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez to do anything. It expressly states: “I DIRECT that, as Director of the EOO [Mayor Bass], I shall coordinate Citywide planning and response with respect to unsheltered individuals in conjunction with the City Administrative Officer, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Los Angeles City Housing Department, Los Angeles City Planning Department and any and all necessary departments and agencies.” Has Hugo Soto-Martinez replaced Karen Bass as The Mayor without anyone noticing? Yo creo que no.
Nowhere does the Mayor’s emergency declaration authorize a councilmember to take any significant action. As Citywatch pointed out on February 13, 2023 Are LA City Councilmembers Financially Liable for Interfering with City Departments, councilmembers have their immunity only while acting collectively as a legislative body. When they exceed their jurisdiction and direct city employees, the councilmember loses his immunity. The reason the councilmember loses immunity is that such behavior is outside the scope of his authority. Not only does Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez have no authority to direct any city department to remove the fence, he also lacks the power to retain any third party contractor to remove the fence. His proposed action is all the more hubristic since the emergency law covering such decisions has just been extended for four months.
What is His Highness’s Explanation?
“Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez has said in the past that the fence is a symbol of segregation, and it doesn't solve the homelessness problem.” Fox WW News, March 2, 2023.
“"[The fence] remains a stain, a tainted legacy of the biggest homeless failure of the city of Los Angeles," Soto-Martinez said. "We cannot have that. If we're going to move forward and address the root causes of these issues, we have to take down the fence." ABC7, February 3, 2023
Had the city council agreed with Councilmember Soto-Martinez, it should have included the fence removal in its extension to emergency declaration.
Does Soto-Martinez think that he’s too special to follow the law? Is he a scofflaw who thinks he can kick the proverbial sand in the Mayor’s face daring her to stop him? Is he full of sound and furry signifying nothing, except his grandiose grandstanding as more virtue signaling?
Or, Is There a More Insidious Motive?
Time will tell, but it is not unreasonable speculation that Soto-Martinez is shilling for developers. The visibility of the homeless, especially the mentally deranged, has been instrumental in stampeding voters to give billions of dollars to developers. Remember Measures HHH and JJJ which turned out to be a gigantic fraud to get affordable housing money and then BK on the project and have a judge remove the affordable housing requirement? That fiasco was $1.2 Billion for developers, but left taxpayers with a long term tax bill with Wall Street for over $2 Billion. January 15, 2018, CityWatch, Will Sunnyslope Bankruptcy Case Put the Brakes on LA’s Affordable Housing?
Families enjoying Echo Park without any homeless encampment in sight do not make Angelenos eager to shell out between $800k and $1M per apartment so that unseen homeless people can have their own apartments. The adage out of sight out of mind applies to any social problem. However, a brouhaha over taking down the fence and the encampments re-appearing, that makes the news. Yes, let’s bring on the activists to scream “racist” and have confrontations with the police. Let’s have neighbors storm city hall to complain and wokers demand that the homeless should not be fenced out. Then, His Highness can make impassioned speeches about segregation, racism and police brutality; all of which does nothing to help the homeless, but it makes the labor unions and the developers happy.
Presently, Mayor Bass’s homeless effort might take a terrible turn into reasonableness. The problem with the shelters, hotels and motels is that many of them are run like totalitarian regimens. see Why Don’t Homeless People in LA Stay in Shelters? Suppose Her Honor should listen to people with expertise in group dynamics so that the alternatives to the streets are pleasant. What if Mayor Bass should find alternate housing without giving developers between $800K and $1 M per apartment? Converting a motel room into a studio apartment costs about $150,000. (May 2021, HUD) The Unions and the Developers would be quite unhappy with the pittance which a conversion costs.
What’s His Highness Hugo’s End Game?
If the fence comes down and no homeless return, who has benefited? That is what we now have at Echo Park Lake. The only difference will be that the park cannot be secured after dark.
If the homeless try to re-establish an encampment, what will His Highness do? Allow the encampment to grow? Ignore neighbors who object? If violence occurs, what will His Highness do when the LAPD shows up?
If his end game is to hype the emotionalism by provoking confrontations so that voters will authorize more Affordable Housing funding, who benefits? The developers and the trade unions.
(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor. You may email him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed by Mr. Abrams are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)