Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday pushed the head of the county’s homeless initiative and other county leaders to move faster in cleaning up RV encampments and rehousing those residents.
The Board of Supervisors in January passed a homelessness emergency proclamation and demanded that key departments come together to urgently address a crisis that has only grown worse and more complicated. The move followed a similar declaration by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.
But it was clear Tuesday that the supervisors felt department heads had failed to act with a sense of urgency. They were openly dismayed by reports of department leaders still operating in silos, which has been a longtime struggle of the massive bureaucracy charged with governing the largest county in America.
Board Chair Janice Hahn pointed to Hurricane Hilary and how at the emergency operations center, city and county officials set up a “war room, basically” and sent out hourly updates. All employees were on high alert should the worst occur, she said.
January’s proclamation, Hahn said, was supposed to communicate to county leaders that the supervisors wanted that same sense of urgency to address homelessness.
“If 70,000 people were displaced because of a flood, … a hurricane, an earthquake, a hurri-quake, it would be all hands on deck until every one of those people had a roof over their head,” said Hahn, whose 4th District includes Long Beach and several cities in southeast L.A. County.
Last September, the supervisors asked several departments to develop a 36-month plan to address the RV encampments across L.A. County. The supervisors wanted to see county workers engage with at least 500 people living in RVs annually and dismantle at least 900 nonworking RVs during the pilot program.
But it took 11 months for county workers to make it to their first encampment. In August, as part of the county’s new Pathway Home encampment housing program, county workers went to an RV encampment in unincorporated Lennox to clean it up and house its 59 residents.
County Chief Executive Fesia Davenport, who oversees the county’s $44-billion budget, said one reason these things take so long is an issue of authority. Even if the supervisors create a homelessness initiative with an executive director, that person doesn’t have the authority to direct department heads to act.
“So what happens is, they’re meeting over and over [with department heads], and it turns into a negotiation, and I get it, that collaboration is helpful and is necessary, but sometimes you need the decider to make the decision,” Davenport said.
Cheri Todoroff, who has served as executive director of the county’s Homeless Initiative for about two years, said finding vacant lots for residents’ RVs once they are persuaded to leave them has been a tremendous challenge.
But the supervisors responded that they didn’t want the RVs to be saved.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, said that when the supervisors previously asked for action on RV encampments, they didn’t want to see those vehicles transported to a tow yard where someone could buy them and rent them out again, alluding to the rising issue of “vanlords” who rent RVs to homeless people.
Barger asked whether the county could offer gift cards to essentially buy RVs from inhabitants who do not want to move out.
“We need to think of creative solutions so we can tow them and destroy them,” Barger said.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell said her 2nd District, which includes beach cities, Inglewood and Compton, has the most RVs — 2,000 of the estimated 7,000 in the county.
Other supervisors’ districts have cities that “are dealing with the situation very simply by putting no-parking signs up,” which pushes RV inhabitants to move to unincorporated areas, like East Gardena in Mitchell’s district.
This has meant significant trash and sanitation issues that residents and business owners have had to deal with for too long, Mitchell said.
“I am clear that my community is at a very dangerous tipping point,” Mitchell said.
Supervisor Hilda Solis agreed she’s hearing similar talk. “I’ve never seen so much disgust” from residents, Solis said.