A federal judge Tuesday blasted the city and county of Los Angeles for continuing to “bicker” and “waste time” instead of quickly finalizing an agreement to provide 6,700 beds for people experiencing homelessness under the threat of the coronavirus.
The court is “extremely disappointed” that in the nearly four months since the parties reached an agreement, plans to go forward are “riddled with unnecessarily rigid positions” suggesting “an unwillingness” to work together to address “a crisis of unprecedented magnitude in Los Angeles,” U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. wrote in an order filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Birotte ordered representatives of the city and county to attend a mediation Thursday at the county Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles.
The suit was brought by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, who accuse the city and county of dragging their feet in not doing enough to get the homeless off city streets and into housing — especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although an agreement was reached in June to provide an additional 6,700 beds over the next 16 months, with funding for five years thereafter, a confidential joint status report filed Monday indicates that momentum has bogged down in a mire of disagreements and inaction, Birotte wrote.
“The joint report is hardly `joint’ at all,” Birotte wrote in the three-page order.
Last month, Los Angeles County notified the court that it has made its first payment of $17.6 million to the city in compliance with the agreement.
According to the pact, the city is responsible for creating 5,300 new beds by April and 700 additional new beds by December 2021 for a total of 6,000 new beds.
The city also must provide an additional 700 beds by April that “may be beds previously captured in an agreement or plan between the city and county,” according to the county’s notice.
The county has committed to pay up to $293 million over the next five years to support the city’s obligation to provide the 6,000 new beds. The first payment of $17.6 million to the city was made on Sept. 1 in compliance with a binding term sheet, the notice states.
“While it should be unnecessary, the Court feels compelled to remind the parties that the challenge of homelessness, and the parties’ decades-long inability to jointly address it, has plagued this region for more than 30 years,” Birotte wrote.
“If the parties are unable to reach agreement on this preliminary aspect of this litigation, it does not bode well for the nearly 60,000 experiencing homelessness (in the city and county).”
Birotte wrote that based on the latest report, “it appears that the parties are more intent on repeating history than changing it.”
“There are 80 days until Christmas and both governments need to act now,” Birotte wrote. “History should not be doomed to repeat itself here, and the Court is committed to ensuring that the City and County work together to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding that adequately addresses the Binding Term Sheet.
“While it is unfortunate that the Court has to intervene, it appears that the parties cannot resolve matters on their own.”
Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of downtown’s Union Rescue Mission, was optimistic that the parties can and will work together to provide immediate shelter for thousands of homeless people.
“The pace of deaths is picking up at an extreme rate,” Bales told City News Service. “I hope for certain we’re going to get immediate practical housing.”
Quoting from numbers provided by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Bales said “deaths on the streets are up 33% since last year — 1,014 precious souls in first nine months” of this year.
Bales, who has attended hearings in the L.A. Alliance case and is involved behind the scenes in the process, said he and his team are “praying for the judge to make a courageous decision” and see that funding is moved to immediate shelter and services.