Mayor Garcetti on homelessness and his political future

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LA Mayor Eric Garcetti stopped by KCRW’s studios to talk about his call to end homelessness and what that looks like. He wants to put emergency shelters in every council district, and disputes criticism that 1500 beds is a drop in the bucket. Also: why won’t he call LA a sanctuary city, and what about running for president in 2020?

Here are some highlights from his interview with KCRW’s Press Play. 

Having shelters in all 15 council districts in LA

Garcetti: The problem has been — we often have a bed someplace in the city on any given night, but it might be across town, and an encampment won’t clear out. People won’t trust that there are services if they have to travel all the way across town, and then get back in the morning when they get kicked out. That’s not a sustainable way out.

It would be 1500 beds that would turn over probably two to six times per bed. So we’re estimating about 6000 people would be able to use these beds once all 1500 are up and running each year. That’s also on top of the county doing about 7000 other beds. So we’re starting to approach somewhere in the 12 to 13,000 range of beds available or people that will be able to go into shelter, get services, and exit those shelters with housing.

County is doing the same thing. Measure H dollars are available thanks to the voters. We’re helping them site in armories, in existing places where they can expand beds. We’re working, for instance, at old YWCA’s city buildings even. We will look everywhere, but this is to take parking lots close to encampments, or empty lots, or other places. And we’ll let the communities decide where — work with council members to say where, but not if. The time is now — where we have to do this in all parts of the city. And I told them if they do this, they will get additional dollars to help keep those streets cleaned once people pack their tents up.

Criticism that 1500 new beds is a drop in the bucket, considering there are more than 34,000 homeless people in LA

I don’t disagree, but it’s not the only drop in the bucket this year. As I said, we’ll probably have 12 to 13,000 people served between city and county shelters. And we’re going to be adding another 1500 permanent homes through the supportive housing that voters passed with HHH.

The last thing I’d say is we need state help. I … went up to Sacramento last week for something called AB 3171, which is a bill that would give us $1.5 billion of the $6 billion surplus in the state for California cities. We will, I believe, reduce homelessness in the coming year and two. But if we want to keep that going or accelerate it so it’s not a decade long wait, we will need their help too.

Time frame for ending homelessness

July 1st is when our fiscal year begins. That money will be available. We will start hiring people up, and finding places, in fact, before July 1st. We’re already identifying those places. So, Council President Herb Wesson yesterday already has a piece of property — he said in the 10th council district. This would be a great place to stand this up.

We can have military-style barracks. We could have pop-up houses, small homes. There’s a lot of different ways to do a shelter. But these will be 24/7 shelters. People won’t have to leave in the morning. They won’t be prohibited from coming if they have pets, or if they’re in a relationship. All these things that have kept people from not trusting that that hand was actually a hand of help will flow July 1st.

Fifteen council districts will get it evenly. January 1st if they haven ‘t spent theirs out, it’ll open up to the rest of the council members to go back for more. And hopefully we’ll have some state money flowing by then too. So we will see by the beginning of this coming calendar year all of these up and running. And then the teams that can help clean neighborhoods and keep encampments out of our sidewalks and the people in shelter will then also come into play.

Fear that cleanup teams will sweep away homeless people

I’m fundamentally opposed to that because I think just cleaning every single day where people are — they’re back the next day, and they don’t have places to shower. They don’t have places to store their things. Cleaning up an entire encampment just to move people to the next block — that’s not right, and it’s not effective.

Unaffordable housing in LA

It’s housing and trauma that’s pushing people into the streets. The high price of rent — let alone mortgages and home ownership. That’s why I’ve been so passionate about building more housing at every level, and building more low income housing. So we’ve housed as many people who are homeless as when I started: 30,000 over the last four years. We’ve doubled the pace, and yet we’re up 40 percent. I take responsibility for that.

I need a lot of partners. Because if you expect the city just to pick them up and resolve it by ourselves, we don’t have that capacity — even with what voters have given us. And we have to figure out a way to stop the supply, even as we’re getting better and faster with the solutions.

Sanctuary policies

I’m never going to stop listening to police officers over politicians. My quick response is I think I care more about my own family’s safety — and the safety of my city — than Donald Trump does.

Not calling LA a sanctuary city

If sanctuary city means Special Order 40 and that we don’t do civil immigration enforcement, yes I’m proud to [call LA a sanctuary city], and we should embrace that. But I think for most Americans, they hear it, and they think it’s a place where it welcomes and protects criminals. We don’t have that. And so I want to be very clear we’re not that.

Exploring a run for the presidency in 2020

I care a lot about this country. And I think all of us who are patriots right now are worried about its direction. … I’ve also been very clear our work isn’t 2020 yet. Our work is flipping the House in 2018. I serve on the DNC — have done for seven years. And I’ve traveled the country all those times, including to caucus and primary states. I want to see state houses flip that are in charge of redistricting. They’ve been criminally — in my mind — gerrymandered. I want to see the House of Representatives that lives up to the word of both Republicans and Democrats to help Dreamers, to invest in our infrastructure. And so I’m listening this year. I mean that’s an intensely personal decision for the future. But I think that right now, what I can do is help not just America but Los Angeles — by having a better Congress and making sure that people who represent our values are at the national level. And I’ll keep doing that.

Why he’d be a viable candidate to lead this country

The plain answer is that I’m really concerned about the direction of our country. I’ve never seen this before. We’ve lost decency. We’ve lost our reputation on the international stage. Even when we have good ideas coming out of Washington, there’s no plan to implement them. And so if there’s ever a time in our life — whether it’s me as a mayor considering running for president, whether it’s a student deciding whether to go to a march and speak out, a mother going to run for a school board — this is the year, and this is the time to do it. We have people so disconnected from DC. That’s really worrying to me. So that’s the only reason. Because I love my job. I’d like to stay. I hate being away from my daughter. I just also don’t want to leave her behind a country where we all could have done something more.

Other qualified Democrats considering a presidential run, such as Senator Kamala Harris

I may make the decision to get behind one of them with that same force of everything that I’m organizing. Even if I don’t run, I hope that some mayors do. We run, often times, jurisdictions bigger than states. I run the largest utility in the United States at the municipal level, the biggest port in America. We deal with terrorism and international relations through our police force and through our trade and the airport. So the things that you need in terms of executives who get things done, I think mayors are amazing. And I’m proud of my progressive politics and record. We’ve made community college free. We’ve raised the minimum wage. We’ve been able to do things for the environment by bringing 400 cities around the country together, even as the president withdrew from Paris. We need people who are not just saying what they’ll do, but who have actually done it, and that’s where I think mayors can fill that void.