Figure 1 - Fire at Richmond Parkway RV Camp
In March of 2021, Councilmembers Martinez and Jimenez agendized and the City Council approved a measure to end the months of flipflopping over proposed RV safe park sites opposed by various neighborhoods and use available funding to serve RV campers where were – Rydin Road and along the Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street. The City subsequently entered into a contract with Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) that included the following stated the objectives:
- By December 31, 2021, 100% of clients have completed a housing plan
- By December 31, 2021, 65% of clients will have exited the program to stable housing
- By December 31, 2021, 75% of clients are connected to primary care/ health care provider
- By December 31, 2021, 40% of clients will have increased their income, (via employment, public benefits, or making lifestyle changes)
- By December 31, 2021, 80% of clients will be enrolled in public benefits
As the City Council was considering this measure back in March, Supervisor John Gioia supported it, committing the County to providing “50 to 60 placements per month.” This is what the public & council was told by Supervisor Gioia at the March 16, 2021 City Council meeting:
"Second, the county has extended the lease, will be extending the lease, on the Hilltop Marriott for another year through June 30th of 2022. And because we’re extending the lease with different funding source than what we’ve received, we can be more flexible at who, at which homeless individuals can live at the Marriott. There will be between 30-50 new slots opening every month at that hotel because there is a turnover of residents there as they move on to other housing. So there’s an opportunity for those who live in an RV to move into basically a single room occupancy hotel room with supportive services where they will also be assisted in finding other housing opportunities"
Figure 2 - More fire at Richmond Parkway RV Camp
The HCEB contract included the following:
Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) shall operate a Safe Parking Program (SPP) at Rydin/Central and Castro/Hensley encampments in Richmond, California (the “Program” or “SPP”). Contractor is responsible for parking management services, coordinating program security services, regular engagement with program participants, and oversight of the day-to-day operations as described in the Scope of Work. The Safe Parking Program will provide security, amenities and linkages to critical services for a minimum of 80 vehicle households across the two encampments identified above. The program is designed to serve clients who live in their vehicles. The target population for this program is Richmond residents who are living in their vehicles.
HCEB was required to provide weekly reports, which has not happened:
- HCEB will conduct a weekly census at the Rydin Road site.
- Reports shall be submitted by Contractor on a weekly basis, with electronic submissions due on Friday of each week.
- Reports shall be submitted to Lina Velasco, Community Development Director
- Reports will include the following:
- Total number of vehicles and program participants at the time of the report.
- Number of participants who exited the program since the previous report, and cumulatively with outcomes for each.
- Flex funds used, including amount and purpose.
The HCEB contract is dated April 1, 2021, and states:
Parking will be available to program participants 24 hours a day. Program length of stay is a maximum of 8 months. No extensions will be granted. Overnight parking privileges will be rescinded for any vehicles remaining at the end of the program term.
Needless to say, the plan originally introduced by Martinez and Jimenez and adopted by the City Council has failed miserably, and recognizing this, Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin has placed item M-4 on the December 7, 2021, City Council Agenda to extend the camps at Rydin Road and along the Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street indefinitely and throw $80,000 a month ($960,000 a year) into maintaining them.
M-4: DIRECT staff to return with a contract amendment with Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) to allow additional time for unhoused vehicle dwellers at Rydin Road and at Castro Street to be relocated and provide on-site services (with month-to-month reports to the City Council on progress via the Reimagining Task Force's overall monthly updates); and APPROVE and APPROPRIATE $50,000 for flex funds for repair, preparation for transfer or removal, registration, storage and towing for RVs and vehicles and for temporary storage of personal belongings, to assist in relocation efforts - Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin (510-620-6636).
Councilmember McLaughlin wrote in the M-4 Agenda report:
As the representative for District 5 (in which the Rydin Road RV encampment exists), I want to make sure these individuals and families are treated humanely and given the necessary time to relocate the 35 households in that encampment. Those who choose not to move to a short-term shelter will need alternative places to park. I am also concerned with the approximately 45 unhoused vehicle dwellers on Castro Street. We need to allow ourselves more time to deal with these approximately 80 households in order to find them alternative places to be relocated and/or to prepare storage for their dwelling units if they are to move into a short-term stay at a motel or shelter. Castro, in particular, will need significantly more time (likely up to 1 year), not to mention more resources.
How did this happen? Whether the County met its commitment of 50-60 placements a month is debatable, but here is what John Gioia says:
I need to say that your statement that the County has not met its commitment for 50-60 placements per month is flat wrong and a total misstatement of fact. You heard at last week’s Ad Hoc Committee meeting that EVERY resident at Rydin Rd. was offered a shelter bed and only 2 accepted this offer; and that 22 were offered a hotel room and all of them declined. Let’s stick to facts.
The problem with the RPA-dominated City Council trying to manage the homeless challenge is that they are great at hatching initiatives but not in following through, and they simply have no experience in management, logistics, contracting, budgeting and implementation. They throw out what seems like a good idea with the least political resistance and then can’t figure out why it is not working. They are not motivated to compel any homeless person to do anything they don’t want to do. People turn down shelter for a variety of reasons, including:
- It makes it harder to do drugs
- many are suffering mental illness and not sufficiently rational to make a decision to move.
- They have pets that aren’t allowed in some shelters
- They have partners that aren’t allowed to live with them in some shelters
- It makes hoarding extremely challenging
We need to find a balance between protecting the status quo of homeless individuals and protecting public health and safety of the remainder of the community. So far, the RPA-dominated City Council has not been supportive of finding that balance.
Both Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street are extremely poor locations for RV camps for the following reasons:
- There is no access control at either site.
- The Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street blocks the Bay trail, has frequent fires, has no 24/7 monitoring and is a source of crime.
- Human waste is routinely dumped in the street.
- Hoarding and trash are continuous challenges at both sites. SOS brags about hauling away hundred of tons of trash from these sites. If they were access controlled, much of that trash would never get into the sites.
PA City Council members continue to tout their scattered sites plan, where churches commit to host a few RVs in parking lots, but after months of trying, no sites are yet active. Meanwhile, Daniel Barth of SOS is raising funds to but yet more homeless people RVs, thus increasing the problem rather than solving it.
A number of sites that have many advantages over the existing ones have been proposed, but RPA City Council members continue to reject them because of neighborhood opposition or concern that the occupants of Rydin Road or the Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street don’t want to move. An example of one such site is City-owned land under the Richmond Parkway overhead at Collins Avenue. It could accommodate every RV from both Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway between North Castro Street and Hensley Street. It is fenced and secured.
Figure 3 - Potential RV Camp site under Richmond Parkway overhead.
I believe we must do the following to get this program back on track:
- We need to move the Rydin Road and North Castro/Parkway/Hensley RV camps to North Castro Street or some other suitable site ASAP so they can be secured and managed. We need to clean up, close and secure the existing North Castro/Parkway/Hensley site.
- We need to concentrate on emptying the Rydin Road site because it cannot be secured.
- The RPD needs to give 72-hour tow away notices to all RVs on city streets at Rydin Road (and future North Castro). The notices will be delayed as long as placement is not available, but once a placement is offered, the vehicle has to go. Vehicles and belongings can be temporarily stored out of sight inside the vacant warehouses at Terminal 1, where the City already pays for 24/7 security. This is a tough love solution, but it needs to happen.
- The County needs to find a way to live up to its previous commitment for housing “50 to 60 persons a month, ” and the City needs to compel RV campers to either accept offered housing and shelters or move. The County also needs to step up its treatment of people suffering from physical or mental health issues, substance abuse issues or developmental issues.
At the end of the day, there is just so much we as a City can do. The State of California can solve this problem. See Update on the Homeless Crisis – The 1% Solution, October 7, 2021. The State is projecting a $30 billion budget surplus this year and could totally fix the problem with just a fraction of that.
Column: Ban homeless encampments everywhere? It might have more support than liberals think
An encampment of RVs along West Jefferson Boulevard in Playa del Rey in June. Many of the homeless residents have caused damage to the adjacent freshwater marsh and Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
BY ERIKA D. SMITHCOLUMNIST
NOV. 27, 2021 5 AM PT
Scott Culbertson is conflicted. Not to mention frustrated. And sad. And disappointed. And, frankly, just fed up.
Angelenos, I suspect many of you can relate.
For almost two years, the executive director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands has watched with dismay as an encampment of broken down RVs and buses has become a permanent fixture along Jefferson Boulevard, just west of Lincoln Boulevard in Playa del Rey.
When I spoke to Culbertson over the summer, he told me how the few dozen occupants had been making frequent incursions into the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and adjacent freshwater marsh, leaving mounds of trash and causing brushfires.
Not a whole lot has changed since then. If anything, it has gotten worse, both in terms of the environmental damage and the equally obvious, but far less measurable — and far more important — human suffering. I live nearby and see it every day.
Culbertson had pinned his hopes on promises by the city to do regular cleanups of the encampment. And for the most part, the city has followed through. It just doesn’t look like it.
“Everybody who is living along there, they know the game now,” he told me a few hours after a pointless pre-Thanksgiving cleanup. “As soon as the L.A. sanitation workers leave, everybody puts their stuff right back out.”
These past few months have left Culbertson at a loss for what do next, other than wait for action on a couple of new city policies that could beef up enforcement.
“Even the most liberal folks, like me, have begun to lose patience with the homelessness situation,” he admitted.
I thought about my conversation with Culbertson while listening to L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino on Tuesday, as he pitched a specious ballot measure that would bar homeless people from sleeping or camping in all public spaces if they have turned down shelter or housing.
“We all agree that the only solution to homelessness is housing,” he told his fellow council members. “Why would we continue to allow someone to continue to live on public property if a safer, healthier alternative is available? When we allow camping in public even when safer alternatives exist, we’re allowing someone’s addiction to take their lives.”
Buscaino wants to give whoever is mayor the authority to waive land-use and zoning rules “to urgently site homeless housing projects,” and ramp up the construction of emergency shelters.
“Contrary to what you’re hearing from advocates and others, this is not criminalizing someone for having no place to sleep,” he said Tuesday. “If there’s no appropriate shelter available, there will be no enforcement.”
Buscaino claims he is being driven by “mercy” and “compassion” for the tens of thousands of Angelenos who are living on sidewalks and under freeway bridges. But he also is running for mayor on a platform of cracking down on encampments.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino at a news conference in June on the Venice Boardwalk, where he announced his plans to address homelessness.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Moreover, he has a habit of insinuating that most homeless people won’t accept help because they are struggling with drugs or mentally illness when, in reality, many are just too poor to afford housing. So there are plenty of reasons to question the purity of his motives.
It’s not entirely surprising, then, that the City Council punted. Rather than approve or reject Buscaino’s request to have the city attorney draft language for his ballot measure, they shipped it to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee for an overhaul.
Some, including Councilman Mike Bonin, were particularly uneasy with its focus on enforcement and the prospect of forcing homeless people, en masse, into temporary emergency housing.
“Do we want to solve homelessness? Or do we want to address the problem of homeless encampments? This does the latter,” he said of the proposed ballot measure. “Homeless encampments are unacceptable, and they’re unsafe and they’re unsanitary. But the way to get rid of homeless encampments is to get rid of homelessness ... by giving people housing.”
If only L.A. were ready for all that.
In response to the council’s action, Buscaino’s campaign vowed to collect the 65,000 signatures necessary to put the measure before voters on the June 2022 ballot. He also criticized his colleagues in a campaign email, saying they “are more interested in the right to sleep on the sidewalk than the right to housing.”
What’s striking about this rhetoric is how similar it is to what Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has been saying lately. And
Steinberg, in contrast to Buscaino, is known in political circles for having compassion for the unhoused, both as author of California’s Mental Health Services Act and as co-chair of a statewide task force on homelessness.
Earlier this month, the mayor introduced what he calls a “right to housing.” It would require the city to provide enough permanent housing or, more likely, temporary shelter — be it sanctioned tent cities, hotel rooms or tiny homes — for every homeless person by 2023 or face possible lawsuits.
In return, homeless people would be required to accept whatever shelter or housing is offered by outreach workers. No cops would be involved.
Steinberg’s plan has gone over better with the Sacramento City Council than Buscaino’s has with the L.A. City Council. But in both cities, homeless activists and progressives are united in their opposition.
“I understand the fear ... that this is just a hidden way to deal with the tent encampment issue and clean up the city,” Steinberg said during a recent council meeting. “My motive is not to make life harder for people, it’s to get people indoors because I think living outdoors in these tent encampments is horrible.”
And like Buscaino, he also has criticized those who would defend the right for people to sleep outdoors.
Indeed, up and down the state, elected officials are trying to figure out what to do with encampments. The degrees of aggressiveness vary. But they all want to be able to move lots of unhoused people from where they are to other mostly temporary locations, and then clean the streets.
The trend seems driven by a collective understanding that this (mostly) post-pandemic reality of homeless people living everywhere is unsustainable. And more importantly, it’s also a tacit admission that, despite the valiant politicking and taxpayer dollars being spent, the permanent and affordable housing that California’s elected officials keep promising as a solution will likely take years, not months, to build.
In that way, the difference between what Steinberg wants to do and what Busciano wants to do is basically splitting hairs. As it is with what L.A. is already doing by authorizing the clearing of specific encampments around parks and libraries after offering all of the occupants housing or shelter.
There are legitimate questions about whether any of this will turn out to be legal. The Boise vs. Martin decision forbids the ticketing or arresting of homeless people for sleeping or camping on public property unless there is shelter available as an alternative. These answers will come in time.
More immediately, though, there are moral questions that must be answered by Californians.
Does it make sense to pour most of our resources into permanent and affordable housing? Or does it make more sense to invest in emergency shelters, tent cities and tiny homes?
Is it humane to allow people to live, get sick and too often die in encampments, knowing they will likely wait years for housing? Or is it more humane to come up with legally dubious ways get people into shelters, even if it’s sometimes against their will and requires an intervention by law enforcement?
Like Culbertson, I’m conflicted. I realize it every time I drive by those RVs parked along Jefferson Boulevard and see a homeless person stumble from between them into traffic.
Scott Culbertson, executive director of Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, gave a tour in June of some of the destruction caused by homeless encampments that are encroaching on the freshwater marsh. “Just moving someone off the sidewalk doesn’t solve the problem,” he says.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
I do know that the criminalization of homelessness, whether issuing tickets or something more drastic, isn’t the answer to anything.
“I don’t know what enforcement means,” Culbertson told me. “I hope it doesn’t mean arresting people, because arresting someone for illegal encampments doesn’t solve the problem. It just moves the problem from my house to your house.”
He doesn’t think clearing encampments, a few at a time, willy-nilly-style, is the answer either. And I agree.
“Just moving someone off the sidewalk doesn’t solve the problem. It solves the problem for the business that has that tent on their sidewalk, but it doesn’t solve the problem for the next business.”
The answer, Culbertson says, is housing. Definitely permanent and affordable housing. Homeless people deserve it, just like everyone does. And homeowners have to be willing to accept it being built in their neighborhoods.
But is it a realistic answer? Can L.A. build housing at the scale and speed that’s needed to make a difference? He’s unsure.
“During the pandemic, you’ve had to make allowances because there was just not a lot anyone could do. But the city has a lot of money to deal with the homeless problem and there has been very little permanent housing built.”
Culbertson sighed deeply.
“I think we’re all frustrated.”