Eric Carcetti
Mayor Eric Garcetti in scene from slow jam video. Photo via YouTube.com

Although Los Angeles has a strong economy and a falling crime rate, the problem of homelessness remains “the” issue facing the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday as he outlined massive jumps in funding for homeless programs along with some approaches he previously resisted.

Homelessness jumped by 20 percent in Los Angeles in 2017 to reach more than 34,000 people, but Garcetti insisted in his State of the City address that the city is now fighting the problem with an appropriate level of funding that will not just help the problem, but eventually end it.

“Let me be clear: we are here to end homelessness,” Garcetti said. “Accepting things the way they are is unacceptable.”

Garcetti said he will propose a 2018-19 budget on Thursday that dedicates more than $429 million toward homelessness, compared to $20 million four years ago and about $178 million last year.

More than 50 percent of the new spending comes from Measure HHH, a 2016 ballot measure approved by city voters that is expected to raise $1.2 billion for permanent supportive housing for the homeless over 10 years. With that funding in hand, Garcetti outlined a number of new approaches, including an additional $17 million for crews dedicated to encampment cleanups and a $20 million proposal to build emergency shelters in the form of tents and trailers around the city. He had previously resisted calling for a big increase in emergency shelters.

“We are fighting to make sure that our children don’t have to ask, `Why is that woman sleeping on a bench? Doesn’t she have someone to take care of her?”’ Garcetti said. “The answer is yes. We are going to take care of her.”

Garcetti also said that “here in California, from San Diego to Fresno — homelessness isn’t an issue — it is `the’ issue.”

Outside of homelessness, most of Garcetti’s speech was peppered with his characteristic optimism and enthusiasm he says he sees in the city’s present and future.

The address was his fifth State of the City speech, the first of his second and final term, and the first since he confirmed he is considering a run for the presidency in 2020. But despite the fact the spent the weekend in Iowa exploring his presidential ambitions, he did not mention President Donald Trump by name and only dedicated a brief portion of his speech to what could be considered national issues.

“I want to say to anyone who wants to understand who Americans are: Don’t look to D.C. Come here to L.A.,” he said. “They’re big on shutdowns. We’re big on opportunity. They hand out tax breaks to billionaires. We give raises to low-wage workers. They’re talking about raising tariffs on our allies around the world. Trade out of LAX and our port reached an all-time high of $400 billion dollars last year. They pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We adopt those goals and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent in a single year.”

Garcetti also noted his efforts in convincing the council last year to pass a linkage fee on developers that is estimated to raise about $100 million annually for affordable housing construction. He said Measure HHH and the linkage fee will make a big impact on improving the housing market and attracting companies to the city.

“We cannot end an affordability crisis if we don’t invest in new housing. We cannot add jobs if companies expand elsewhere because workers aren’t able to find a decent place to live. And we cannot move forward as a city if people are locked out of opportunity,” he said.

The mayor also praised the city for landing the Lucas Museum, which broke ground earlier this year, and the 2028 Summer Olympics, which was an effort he helped spearhead.

He also confirmed widespread reports that SpaceX will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket at the Port of Los Angeles, with the goal of launching it on missions to Mars. The news was praised by Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the Port of Los Angeles.

“Elon Musk is the modern day Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford and Leonardo DaVinci all in one,” Buscaino said. “The fact that he has made so much progress in such a short amount of time with not only SpaceX, but also Tesla, Solar City and now the Boring Company, gives us lots of promise for the future of the L.A. waterfront as an innovation district in Los Angeles.”

The passage last year of the countywide Measure M, which is expected to raise $120 billion over 40 years for transportation projects, was another reason for optimism, Garcetti said, while also saying the city has added 156,000 new jobs since he took office.

“Los Angeles: We are on our way to an even brighter future — and together we are going to get there. And when we do, we’ll know that we were the ones who raced out of the starting block,” Garcetti said.

The mayor also dedicated a portion of his speech to crime, which has been falling so far in 2018. Garcetti argued that crime was “flat” in 2017, although violent crime rose 1.9 percent compared to 2016, which was the highest number since 2006, and Part One crimes, which include violent and serious property-related crimes, were up 0.7 percent, which was also the highest level since 2006.

But 2018 is looking positive, Garcetti said, with property crime down almost 7 percent, homicides down 15 percent, and the number of people struck by bullets down almost 29 percent.

Carmen Hayes-Walker, president AFSCME Local 3090, a union representing some of the city’s clerical workers and call center employees, was one of the early critics of Garcetti’s speech. She participated in a rally outside City Hall with a group of several dozen residents, community leaders and city workers who argued the mayor has not done enough to create local jobs or to improve city services following the Great Recession.

“The recession was 10 years ago, and we are still way below adequate staffing levels in the city of Los Angeles,” she said.

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