Mayor Karen Bass and CD13 Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez spoke at the Windsor Square Association annual meeting on Wednesday, November 15 at 7 pm in the evening. Neighbors filled the front living room of the elegant Ebell of Los Angeles, anxious to hear from Mayor Karen Bass, who now lives in the neighborhood at Getty House on Irving Blvd.
In her opening remarks, Bass started by saying that always loves being in The Ebell and has been there recently to talk about homelessness. Noting that it’s been nearly a year since she and Councilmember Soto-Martinez took office, Bass said she was pleased that her program Inside Safe has moved more than 18,000 Angelenos off the street and inside housing during the first 11 months of her administration.
“We have cleared 31 encampments around the city,” said Bass. “And I don’t mean cleaned, I mean cleared. I believe in housing and services on day one so that people don’t fall out of housing and then fall back in the street.”
Bass said she is keeping a close eye on a growing encampment on 6th Street that she drives by every day and promised to follow up on it.
“If we had enough hotel rooms, we could house everyone on the street,” said Bass, adding that she has learned that most people want to come inside. Bass said she has also learned about what works and what doesn’t since she’s taken office. And she’s committed to being honest about what needs to be fixed.
“I wasn’t going to come into office and spend months working on the perfect plan, testing it, etc. No, to me this is an emergency situation and that means building the plane and flying it and this plane has a lot of of issues!” said Bass.
Bass spent the next thirty minutes with Windsor Square resident and member of the association’s board of directors, Sarah Dusseault, answering questions collected from residents many of which focused on homelessness. Bass reiterated her commitment to getting people off the street, not waiting for housing to be built, and exploring all kinds of interim housing options, master leasing hotels, etc.
“You just can’t leave people on the street,” said Bass. She explained how the social safety net has been shredded over the last several decades and we are seeing the results of that on the street.
“Some people just need economic assistance,” explained Bass. “Not everyone on the streets is drug addicted and mentally ill, though if you had to spend time on the street, your mental health would suffer too. Some people take meth to stay up all night so they can stay safe and then they become addicted.”
Bass said homeless people are very vulnerable and often victims of criminal activity in the encampments. In those situations, Bass said she involved the LAPD.
When asked about the impact on the budget, Bass agreed it’s expensive to lease hotels, which is why she’s looking into master leasing. But she said you have to look at the cost of not moving people inside. She hopes to motivate the private sector to help create more housing before the Olympics, so images of unhoused people living in tents are not the narrative about Los Angeles.
Following Bass, CD13 Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez said he was both inspired and frustrated to be in his office. He said he was proud to collaborate with the mayor, whom he admires for being willing to take on the challenge of solving homelessness, which had been decades in the making. For his part, Soto-Martinez explained that he has organized his office differently from his predecessor. Instead of having field deputies deal with homelessness, Soto-Martinez introduced his director of homelessness, Patrick Mooney, who leads a team of two others who cover the entire district. They have mapped every encampment in the district, populated by more than 3,000 people, said Martinez.
Soto-Martinez explained how he and his team have coordinated with the Mayor’s Inside Safe Program, where more than 95 percent of people have accepted housing. He completely agrees that if we had more housing, we could house nearly all the people on the street.
Like Bass, Soto-Martinez, believes that more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming homeless. Despite having nearly 7,000 eviction notices served to residents in the district, Soto-Martinez said the system is not set up to make it easy to find those people to offer them assistance.
“We are now in the process of building an entire team just to deal with the issue of housing, because that’s how you are going to stop the flow of people becoming homeless,” said Soto-Martinez.
“Every day I wake up honored to be your councilmember, but I also feel like I have got to find a way to make change because the city bureaucracy is real,” said Soto-Martinez. “But I am hopeful because for the first time, everyone is working together, even city council members are working together and that was not always the case. It’s not going to happen overnight, but every day we are making progress.”
Soto-Martinez also fielded a number of questions about other issues. When asked about density, Soto-Martinez said that he thinks every neighborhood needs to contribute to solving the housing shortage, though he said he would let residents decide. He said HPOZ and R-1 neighborhoods were not likely to be adversely affected. The one question that drew the most applause was a request to ticket people on Larchmont who park in the middle of the street!
In closing, Soto-Martinez commended the neighborhood for its block captain structure and saluted the volunteers for their efforts.
WSA President Larry Guzin conducted the rest of the meeting, calling on various board members to present reports on public safety, disaster preparedness, the block captain network, and the planning and land use committee.
Finally, the association announced the election of the following board members: June Bilgore, Jeryl Bowers, Brian Curran, Michael Davis, Tracey Durning, Sarah Dusseault, Amy Forbes, Gary Gilbert, Jason Greenman, Larry Guzin, Steve Kazanjian, Angie Szentgyorgyi, Steve Tator, Jane Usher, and John Welborne.