Pressure will be heavy in the coming year on Mayor Eric Garcetti and county supervisors board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to show much more progress with the so-far insoluble housing-homeless problem.
They are the two most powerful and prominent elected officials in our tangle of local government, which consists of Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and 87 other cities within the county boundaries.
Garcetti was the prime backer of the city's $1.2 billion Los Angeles city bond, Measure HHH, to build housing for the homeless. Ridley-Thomas was the most vocal and active of the five supervisors campaigning for a separate measure, the quarter-cent sales tax that voters approved in March to provide mental health, substance abuse counseling and other services for the homeless. The way it is supposed to work is that the bond will finance apartments and county funds will provide for social workers, nurses, doctors and counselors for the residents. Help and housing, all in the same building.
The other four supervisors will hate this column for singling out Ridley-Thomas. They all think they are queens and kings of their sprawling districts. The Los Angeles City Council members will hate it too. They are under the impression they are royalty in their districts. To them, the mayor is an annoyance, detracting from their glory.
But Garcetti is the political leader of the city, with great appointive and budget power. Of the county supes, Ridley-Thomas has more political smarts than his colleagues, with connections they can only dream of. And he is the most influential African American lawmaker in local government.
Right now, the homeless-housing situation is a mess. So many agencies are involved that I have found it impossible to get my arms around it. Their bosses speak in a bureaucratese that even I, well acquainted with the issue, find completely confusing.
City Atty. Mike Feuer says Los Angeles needs hire someone to lead the effort. We already did that when we elected Garcetti to another term. Garcetti should get a daily report on what's being done with the bond money to provide housing--and for constructing shelters in the short term. And he should share the information with us.
As for Ridley-Thomas, he should use his power and smarts to hammer county mental officials to provide the services the homeless need. I've seen the pages of questions that homeless people must answer to get into the system that is supposed to provide them help. Believe me, this bureaucratic approach makes it almost hopeless.
Everyone who walks by the growing number of homeless encampments wants to know who is to blame. Well-meaning and industrious reporters offer explanations. But journalists get lost in the weeds of the homeless-housing issue. I know. I've been lost in those weeds, too.
Let's make it simple and bring it down to two people with the power to clean up the mess--Mayor Garcetti and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.
As City Atty. Feuer and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said, this is an emergency. It's as bad as flood or fire. Garcetti and Ridley-Thomas should meet every week on it, and give joint public progress reports on their web sites, Twitter and Facebook and in press conferences. Hopefully, the local media will cover them. A shaken-up housing-homeless bureaucracy may start acting as first responders instead of desk jockeys.
It won't happen without Ridley-Thomas and Garcetti. Nothing will work unless they work together.