Retail Owners Frustrated With Gov. Newsom, Mayor Bass Responses to Multiplying Robberies

‘Bass keeps finding new ways to disappoint us – She’s not even doing the bare minimum’

Retail store owners in Los Angeles continued to remain frustrated at the recent string of smash and grab robberies, with many charging that state and local officials have not done enough to help deter the growing number of robberies. The Globe spoke with several retail owners in the LA area about what the situation currently is like for them.

“If a large number of people burst in here all at once, there is nothing we can really do,” said Nasser Odeh, a luxury store owner in Los Angeles, to the Globe. “Say 12 come in and start smashing the cases. If I call the police, they won’t respond in time, and even if some just happen to swing by, the most we can hope for is one or two arrests. If I pull down the shutters, then I’m stuck with 12 angry robbers who may or may not be armed. If I bring out bear spray or another weapon, they’ll retaliate. If I fight back, they’ll retaliate. The best case for me is that one or two of them are caught, but then because of the laws we have, who knows if they’ll even be sentenced.”

“This is where a lot of retailers are, especially ones that carry expensive clothes or jewelry or something else expensive that is easy to carry out and flip. We don’t know who to turn to in these cases. The best we can do is improve security as best as we can to deter robbers.”

A clothing boutique co-owner, Sarah Watt, added, “This is incredibly frustrating, and scary. If you look at those smash and grab videos, they all come in wearing black and face coverings, and just rip what they can. It’s brutal and effective. And there is only so much we can do. We can have armed security guards and cameras and everything, but they’ll still come. What we want is more police, stronger sentences, and for our security guards to be given the green light for more hands on action in case things take a turn. But this city just is not doing that. [LA Mayor Karen] Bass really doesn’t give a damn about small business owners.”

The uptick in ‘flash mob’ robberies did spur some action this week from both Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Karen Bass. Gov. Newsom announced on Thursday that he would be tripling its California Highway Patrol (CHP)resources in Los Angeles to help crack down on the issue, while Mayor Bass created a new task force to help counter the robberies. According to the Mayor’s office, the new task force will investigate, apprehend and prosecute all criminals involved in recent retail thefts.

“We are not treating it as organized crime in the traditional sense, in terms of, like, the Mafia,” said the Mayor on Friday. “But what is clear is that this is organized. You can’t go in and have a group of people, 20 and 30 people, who all get out of their cars at the same time, all go in to the stores. There might be connections between the groups. This is what the task force will establish.”

“No Angeleno should feel like it’s not safe to go shopping in Los Angeles. No entrepreneur should feel like it’s not safe to open a business.”

Disappointment with the response by Newsom, Bass

However, the actions of Newsom and Bass have rung hollow for many. Senate Republicans on Thursday pointed out the flaws in Newsom’s plan, including that, because of many current vacancies in the CHP, the increased presence would put a strain on the Highway Patrol as a consequence of the state not giving any additional resources (funding) to them. Others said that the state’s lax laws on reducing penalties to retail criminals, few to no prison terms for retail robberies, and early releases for those with sentences severely undercut what the Governor was attempting to do. In addition, it was also mentioned that the lack of arrests from similar flash mob robberies in the Bay Area two years ago showed how the Governor’s response would likely not accomplish much.

“Welcome to ‘CRIMEafornia,’” said Senator Brian Jones (R-San Diego) in a statement on Thursday. “The crisis we are experiencing is unfortunately a result of decades-long policies implemented by Democrat lawmakers that prioritize coddling criminals over protecting communities. While it’s welcome news that the state is investing more resources to combat skyrocketing thefts, it shouldn’t be happening in the first place. The governor is treating the symptoms, not the causes, including little-to-no penalties, early release, lenient or non-existent prison terms, and weak leadership from most of California’s Democrat politicians over the last two decades.”

More locally in LA, Bass’ task force announcement failed to impress retail owners.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Bass Wants to Bring Homeless People Indoors. Can She Secure Enough Beds?

Seated on the hard sidewalk along Cahuenga Boulevard, Rue Ryan arranged a batch of red roses she had plucked from the trash into a memorial for her “street mom,” Hyper, who died two years ago.

The work was an escape from the activity around her, as friends and fellow encampment residents hurriedly prepared to move into nearby hotel rooms, choosing what to keep or toss.

Outreach workers had counted about 25 people living under a 101 Freeway overpass in Hollywood, and on Tuesday, 11 of them went to one of three nearby hotels. A hot shower, a good night’s rest — these are luxuries housed people take for granted, Ryan said, and would help her find a job, some security and a permanent place to live.

“It’s dangerous out here. People are getting trafficked. People are getting killed,” said Ryan, a 32-year-old Alabama native. “You can’t sleep if you’re staying on the streets. So you’re exhausted. You’re not going to work. You look filthy and smell. Nobody wants to deal with you. How can you move forward in life? That’s why people get stuck out here so long.”

Ryan hoped to get a hotel room of her own as part of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ “Inside Safe” initiative, which Bass unveiled Wednesday, nine days after she declared a citywide state of emergency on homelessness. The declaration she signed Wednesday formally kicks off a determined effort to clear encampments by offering people such as Ryan hotel and motel rooms.

Fellow politicians, nonprofit providers and some activists have applauded the urgency and focus that Bass is bringing to moving people off the street and into temporary housing, from which social workers can help them find permanent housing.

In the first two weeks of her administration, Bass has sought to centralize the work of identifying encampments with the most vulnerable people and which are the biggest sources of frustration for nearby residents. She has also focused on identifying the steps in the process that delay people going indoors, or housing from being built.

What occurred at the encampment on Cahuenga was effective, providers say, because they had hotel rooms rented and ready for people to occupy.

“The pace at which Inside Safe can bring people indoors from encampments across the city will largely depend on the availability of beds,” said Cheri Todoroff, executive director of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative. “What the city is doing that will likely be a game changer is accelerating housing placements, both in interim and permanent housing.”

More buildings master-leased — a process in which the city would take control of entire hotels or motels — means more people off the streets. But it remains to be seen whether the city can lease enough beds to meaningfully reduce or eliminate large encampments across Los Angeles.

Bass has made clear she wants to work closely with Todoroff’s bosses — the five Los Angeles County supervisors — appearing before them Tuesday to talk about the need for better partnership between the bureaucracies. The county does much of the funding and contracting of the outreach work taking place on city streets.

The county will be expanding some of these different outreach teams in the coming year, which will bolster the plans that Bass and council offices have to address large encampments across the city.

Still, providers say the work of gaining a homeless person’s trust to persuade them to move off the street is easier when a bed is available along with transportation to it. Case in point: A city Dash bus idled in position Wednesday, poised to ferry people to a motel once they were ready and had packed the two bags they were allowed to bring.

As people moved out of their makeshift structures, sanitation workers quickly moved in to throw away large items and dispose of what was left behind. Homeless people have often complained that this work by the Sanitation Department causes them to lose personal items and important documents.

Bass appeared cognizant of this broader challenge Wednesday as she highlighted how this effort on Cahuenga followed the approach that had been developed at large encampment cleanups across the city in 2021. She made clear that these operations weren’t being led by law enforcement and that she didn’t want to see homeless people ticketed or punished for living on the street.

“We know that there are specific motels where people can go to,” she said of the Hollywood cleanup and effort to move people indoors. “In the best of all worlds, what I would like to see is us to be able to do this citywide. But we’re not at that capacity just now. It’s going to take us a minute to ramp up. I think this is day nine or day 10 of me being mayor.”

Bass was flanked by outreach workers and social services providers at Wednesday’s news conference, where she signed the executive order. Among other things, it directs city officials to compile a report by the end of March that will “create a unit acquisition strategy, including master leasing for both interim and permanent housing options.”

The first goal, she sets out in the document, is to “decrease the number and size of encampments across the city.”

Bass’ emergency declaration, which the City Council authorized, gives her a lot more flexibility to quickly commit city funds toward leasing motel and hotel rooms. City officials said Bass currently has about $20 million at her disposal that could be put toward leasing beds quickly.

More funds could be made available to her, but that would require more input from the council.

Bass credited Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of St. Joseph Center in Venice, with helping spearhead some of this work.

Last year, Adams Kellum’s organization coordinated the outreach and renting of hotel rooms along Ocean Front Walk in Venice, where a massive encampment had sprung up, frustrating local residents and business owners.

The city gave her organization about $5 million to do that work, and more than half of the funds went to renting motels for more than 200 people. Much of the rest went toward staff to supervise the outreach and operations of the hotels.

That operation was delayed in part because Adams Kellum’s team had to wait for the City Council to sign off on the money being spent, recalled former Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represented the area and helped organize this work.

“There was a really drawn-out process then,” Bonin said. “Karen has the opportunity to say ‘let’s get moving’ and people will move. It’s a big difference from the usual legislative process.”

Both Bonin and Adams Kellum said the success of that work in Venice hinged on having beds available for people to quickly move into.

In an interview, Adams Kellum, who is on Bass’ transition advisory team, said that of the 213 people moved off Ocean Front Walk, 109 have found permanent housing. She added that it’s much easier to get people paired with a housing subsidy and into permanent housing if they’re indoors already.

“She knows housing has to be a part of it,” Adams Kellum said of Bass and her team’s work. “I know she’s lining that up because she knows you can’t go into an encampment sincerely without [the motel bed] in hand.”

Back on Cahuenga, Ryan waited for her case manager to arrive with her driver’s license — a delivery that continued to be delayed. Some of Ryan’s friends planned to stay on the street — uninterested in the offers of a hotel room. She had also seen some people lose items they cared about during the cleanup Tuesday.

Click here to read the full story in the LA Times

New LA Mayor Bass Declares Homeless Emergency as Term Begins

 Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass began her first day in office Monday by declaring a state of emergency to grapple with the city’s out-of-control homeless crisis, bidding to move swiftly to get thousands of unhoused people off her city’s streets.

Bass called the declaration “a sea change in how the city tackles homelessness,” making good on a campaign pledge to call the emergency the day she took power. The issue dominated her mayoral race against billionaire developer Rick Caruso and the crisis has continued to worsen despite vast public spending increases.

She said Sunday that the many, disparate arms of government must unite to confront homelessness in the nation’s second-largest city. To move in a new direction “we must have a single strategy” bringing together government, the private sector and other stakeholders, she said at the ceremony.

Trash-strewn encampments and rusting RVs have spread to virtually every neighborhood of Los Angeles, and her declaration on Monday included a grim statistical rundown of the many problems stemming from the homeless crisis.

Fires caused by homeless people constitute a majority of all blazes handled by the Los Angeles Fire Department, averaging 24 a day, according to 2021 figures. About half the homeless population — totaling over 40,000 citywide — suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, and about a third have serious mental illnesses. And homeless deaths average five a day.

Despite more than $1.2 billion in spending for homeless programs in the current city budget, there is scant evidence of change on the streets, and the declaration said the crisis has grown “beyond the control of the normal services, personnel, equipment, and facilities” in Los Angeles.

Advocates for the unhoused cheered the declaration.

Jennifer Hark Dietz, CEO of the homeless services nonprofit PATH, said the city’s previous “piecemeal” approach to the crisis too often involved law enforcement instead of service providers. She expressed hope that the move would cut down on red tape, bolster outreach and include “tangible housing solutions.”

“From individuals just falling into homelessness, to those living outdoors or in interim housing … we know that the affordable housing they need is just not here,” Dietz said in a statement Monday that backed efforts to speed creation of affordable housing.

Janice Hahn, who heads the county Board of Supervisors, credited Bass with “treating the homelessness crisis with the urgency it demands.”

Bass’ election in November represented a historic marker in the city’s 241-year history. She is the first woman and second Black person to hold the job. The former Democratic congresswoman and legislative leader begins work amid multiple crises. Bass also is tasked with easing rising crime rates and restoring trust in a City Hall shaken by racism and corruption scandals.

Bass — who was on President-elect Joe Biden’s short list for vice president — claimed the post last month after overcoming more than $100 million in spending by rival Caruso, a billionaire and Republican-turned-Democrat who campaigned as a centrist and promised a strong emphasis on public safety.

Caruso would have represented a turn to the political right for the heavily Democratic city. Bass swayed voters by arguing she would be a coalition builder to help heal a troubled city of nearly 4 million.

She took her formal oath privately but was sworn in ceremonially at a downtown theater on Sunday by Vice President Kamala Harris, a longtime friend and former California attorney general.

Bass, 69, ran as the consensus pick of the Democratic establishment and was endorsed by Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite her close ties with the Democratic political community, she has described herself as a change agent who will marshal “all of the resources, all of the skills, the knowledge, the talent of the city” to get homeless people into housing.

She has said she intends to get over 17,000 homeless people into housing in her first year through a mix of interim and permanent facilities.

She also will contend with entrenched urban problems that include a housing shortage, crumbling streets and some of the nation’s worst traffic.

She replaces beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who ends two bumpy terms with his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India stalled in the Senate, apparently over sexual misconduct allegations against a former top Garcetti adviser.

Click here to read the full article at AP News