California needs to activate the National Guard and call in the Red Cross to prevent coronoavirus from ravaging the state’s homeless population

Part I of an occasional series on the public health implications of California’s homeless crisis

A Red Cross base camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Photo copyright 2010 Timo Leuge. Used with permission.

As coronavirus continues to spread and approach its apex in the United States, homeless people will be among the hardest hit. They live with numerous risk factors including poor sanitation, close contact, substance abuse, preexisting conditions, and compromised immune systems. California, home to nearly half the country’s unhoused population, faces particular perils. Health experts are reporting they are at twice the risk of contracting the virus as compared to the general population. A recent study by researchers at UCLA, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania estimates that as many as 1,200 homeless people could die of the virus in Los Angeles before the current outbreak recedes. Homeless victims alone could quickly overwhelm the county’s stretched medical resources. And while the state’s official response to the outbreak overall has received good marks, and rightly so, it’s a different story with the homeless.

The dynamics of homelessness these days also potentially endanger the broader population. A decade ago chronic homelessness, for better or worse, was concentrated in a few neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Skid Row in Los Angeles, and north Bakersfield. The situation was at crisis levels and constituted a humanitarian disaster, but at the time it still appeared manageable, with the state and individual cities spending billions of dollars to bring people indoors and provide them with services.

In contrast, these days California’s homeless population is diffused throughout the state, a translucent parallel population superimposed upon cities and towns. Individual camps have social orders and some have developed rudimentary economies and self-government. Still, the twin demons of addiction and mental illness leave few unhaunted and the camps are places of endless suffering. That translucent civilization is corrupted by criminality, exploitation, disease, and death. Last October a man lwho called himself Hippie, who was living in front of the U.S. Post Office in Mar Vista told The All Aspect Report, “It’s f***g Hell, man. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

At the same time, as reported by City Journal‘s Chris Rufo and others, previously autonomous encampments are becoming interconnected and even interdependent. In particular the profusion of scooters, e-bikes, and bike share programs provide ample opportunity for people to move among camps. Bike and scooter chopshops are commonplace in encampments. As a man in a homeless camp in Lake Balboa who identified himself as Roberto told The All Aspect Report last summer, everyone knows where to go to get which drugs and where to barter for electronics, bicycles, clothing, food, even sexual favors.

Giving “new mobility” a different meaning, Chop shops full of stolen bicycles and scooters are common sights in California’s homeless encampments. This one was in San Diego.

Disease already spreads easily through homeless encampments. San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, and other cities have experienced outbreaks of hepatitis, typhus, influenza, and tuberculosis in camps. Last year L.A. was sued by, ironically, a City Attorney who alleges she contracted typhus from flea-infested rats at City Hall. Also last year City Council President Herb Wesson ordered the rugs in his office replaced after his staff found fleas and reported hearing “rustling” in the ceiling. Of course, homeless people don’t have the luxury of litigation or fumigation.

Given that disease and sickness already were prevalent in the homeless population, their new mobility virtually guarantees that infectious agents are spreading among different camps – and that means spreading through neighborhoods. Homeless people often find shelter in the doorways and courtyards of apartment complexes where hundreds of people live, or the parks where families play and recreate. They traverse neighborhoods, entering backyards and even breaking into homes. They are ideal vectors for aggressive pathogens as proved by those experiences at City Hall last year. With coronavirus the crisis now threatens the health and welfare of all Californians.

City emergency resources were at the breaking point before coronavirus

As these issues coalesce, the state’s emergency response infrastructure already is at a breaking point. LAFD Station 9 in downtown L.A. got 35,518 calls for service last year, making it the busiest station in the country. A huge portion of which were homeless-related. The San Francisco Fire Department fields enough homeless calls every day to reduce service capacity to Level Zero, meaning no available resources are left for additional emergencies. While it sometimes only lasts a few minutes, those minutes can make a life or death difference. The city’s widely respected new fire chief told the board of supervisors last autumn, “It’s been a huge challenge for us. We run at level zero on a daily basis and level zero is when there are no ambulances available to respond to an incident. That speaks volumes to me.”

The All Aspect Report has spoken with dozens of emergency officials off the record and on background about the crisis. The rank and file use words like “overwhelmed,” “exhausted,” and most of all “frustrated.” When asked how many of his station’s fire calls are homeless-related he replied unhesitatingly, “All of them.” Speaking on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon he and his crew said they had responded to eight calls to fires just that day. “Toss in the emergency and non-emergency calls the homeless make, sometimes just because they need a ride to the doctor to fill a prescription, and we’re toast,” he said.

Overwhelmed first responders and Level Zero resource capacity are bad enough during normal times. These are not normal times. It is well past time for officials like Governor Gavin Newsom and mayors like London Breed in San Francisco and Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles to admit the state no longer can go it alone.

Only the military and organizations like the Red Cross are equipped to handle the crisis

Within 24 hours of the devastating 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia the United States dispatched C-17 Globemaster, C-5 Galaxy, and C-130 Hercules heavy lift aircraft to the region. Military personnel and private and nonprofit contractors provided shelter, clean water, food, medicine, sanitation, and search and rescue operations from Indonesia to Madigascar. Operation Unified Assistance became the largest relief effort since the Berlin Airlift. It involved some 15,000 personnel, two aircraft carrier task forces, a Marine expeditionary unit, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, and countless vehicles and rotary and fixed wing aircraft. At the peak of the operation the U.S. and a dozen other countries were delivering more than 100,000 pounds of supplies every 24 hours. Less than a year later, some of those same personnel and resources were on the ground in cities and towns throughout the southeastern U.S. providing relief to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Mobile combat field hospitals like this one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington are purpose-designed to handle mass casualties. Photo courtesy 47th Combat Field Hospital, 62nd Medical Brigade.

That is the kind of response California’s homeless crisis demands in the context of the coronavirus. The state’s responses to date have proved woefully inadequate, as a walk down the street proves. It would require a fraction of the effort and resources of Unified Response to aid every homeless person in California in a matter of weeks and prevent a possible mass outbreak of coronavirus in that population. The coronavirus emergency should be a starting point in terms of a long-term solution to homelessness, a solution that recognizes the urgency of the situation. No more “Ten Year Plans” to solve homelessness, no more $700,000 apartments built by plugged-in developers. Californians don’t have the luxury to indulge official corruption and incompetence anymore.

If it wasn’t apparent to the political class before it is now: This is an emergency. It’s time to bring in the resources with the knowledge and experience to tackle it. The military has an extraordinary record of service in the context of natural and man made disasters going back to at least the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. General Fredrick Funston’s Presidio Battalion established relief camps, provided food, water, and medical attention to survivors, conducted search-and-rescue operations, and tapped out looting and civil unrest. If they could do it 115 years ago they can do it today.

A U.S. Army emergency relief camp on Potrero Hill after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Photo courtesy the Potrero Archives Project.

Mr. Governor, this is no longer a drill. Look to the history of the city in which you began your political career, learn from it, and do right by the people of this state. Call up the National Guard.

Coronavirus is bringing out the best in Americans, and the worst in America’s political class (UPDATED)

For politicians this isn’t a national emergency, but “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

American Impotence.

One of the greatest aspects of the United States of America is the way in which the country’s political class, for all their sins and flaws, rises to the moment when it really matters. Our national tapestry is woven with moments such as Congress gathering on the steps of the Capital and singing “God Bless America” the afternoon after 9/11. We remember Ronald Reagan standing before the Brandenburg Gate imploring Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the confidence people had in JFK and his team of the best and the brightest during the terrifying days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We remember Dwight Eisenhower defying members of his own party as well as the blue dog Democrats by sending the National Guard to Little Rock to enforce the Supreme Court’s desegregation order in Brown v. Board of Education. For all our collective national malefactions over the years these are the moments that have forged the American spirit in the modern era.

All of which is why it has been saddening to witness today’s political class respond to the existential threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than unifying in the face of an invisible enemy that kills regardless of party or faction, they have devolved into bouts of petty partisanship that would be unbecoming in normal times. Normal times these are not, and their failure risks becoming our nation’s failure. [UPDATE: On Friday, March 27 Congress passed a $2 trillion emergency stimulus package. The partisan bickering continued through the floor vote itself. It will be a long time before Americans know the full scope of the bill’s provisions.]

Instead of standing together and showing America and the world that they are worthy of the moment, over the past week members of Congress repeatedly have taken their toys and gone to their corners. As the stock market and economy careened toward recession and obliterated the financial security of 330 million Americans, members of the United States Senate, who call their institution the Greatest Deliberative Body in History, spent a week bickering over whether or not to bail out the post office.

At a moment when Americans need leadership, vision, and reassurance they were instead treated to the spectacle of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer spitting invective at each other across a split screen. Bernie Sanders, who has convinced millions that he’s a viable choice for President, skipped a vote on Sunday to host a virtual town hall from his basement with a neophyte legislator from Brooklyn. This is the man who last week snipped at a reporter that he was busy dealing with a “f***ing global crisis” and doing his “best to make sure that we don’t have an economic meltdown and that people don’t die.” Apparently his best doesn’t include showing up to vote, at least not when there’s a quixotic presidential campaign to attend to.

Both parties are showing Americans that they are incapable of setting aside ideology. Republicans want to hand out extra billions to industries that don’t need it, while Democrats have gone full Green New Deal and P.C. Neither set of demands have anything remotely to do with coronavirus. If the Senate is able to compromise and pass a bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t guarantee her chamber will so much as bring the bill for a vote.

In the most jaw-dropping display of cynicism to date, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) told reporters on Monday that the crisis is “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” Not an opportunity to help Americans, rescue the economy, or save lives, but to achieve partisan ideological goals. While Mr. Clyburn is a Democrat it’s safe to assume many Republicans feel the same way.

It’s important – nay, essential – to keep in mind that the 535 members of the United States Congress, along with their thousands-strong army of staffers, advisors, lawyers, and consultants, are among the few Americans who don’t have to worry about missing paychecks, losing their jobs, or being evicted from their homes during this crisis. They’ll be just fine. In fact, with a $2 trillion stimulus bill in the works their cups runneth over. The few of them who’ve contracted the virus will receive world-class medical care while millions of their fellow citizens wait for basic testing kits to reach their communities.

It is also essential to recognize that, a few scofflaws aside, the vast majority of Americans are comporting themselves with more seriousness, not to mention dignity and community, than their elected representatives. The news waves and social media are chock a block with acts of kindness: A small dental company in Oklahoma donated desperately needed medical supplies to a medical clinic. A barbecue join in Phoenix, Arizona brought hot meals to exhausted staff at a local hospital. Teachers in Indiana formed a car parade to visit their students and uplift everyone’s spirits. The Dropkick Murphys, Boston’s most beloved band, streamed a free concert for 150,000 people on St. Patrick’s Day.

At the same time millions of health care workers, first responders, delivery drivers, grocery store workers, volunteers, journalists, and community leaders are placing their own health at risk to do their jobs and serve their communities during the crisis. The average clerk at Ralph’s has shown far more moxie, courage, and generosity than the entire political class.

While Americans display their best impulses, the political class cannot rise above their worst.

It’s no better at the state or local level. Here in Los Angeles coronavirus has revealed in stark relief the fecklessness of Mayor Garcetti’s and the City Council’s approach to homelessness. More than a month into the crisis, while four million Angelenos (with the exception of a few idiots) self-quarantine and shelter in place, tens of thousands of homeless people, addicts, and lunatics wander the streets at all hours of the days and nights. They convene, as usual, in close proximity in desperately filthy encampments. They share food and drink, clothing, and hypodermic needles. At this point it’s all but certain that the disease will cut through their numbers like a scythe through dry wheat.

At the Mayor’s behest last week council belatedly passed a series of measures aimed at sheltering the homeless in city recreation facilities as well as hotels and motels. Their actions comprise not a coherent strategy so much as a series of impulsive reflexes. The belated plan to cram thousands of people into close quarters also conflicts with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time the city has deployed hundreds of porta-potties and hand washing stations in homeless encampments, which units are serviced by blue collar workers who aren’t provided with even rudimentary protective gear.

As of this writing there’s been no visible change in the conditions on the streets. Reports from some communities, including Venice Beach, confirm that homeless populations actually are increasing, not decreasing. One neighbor told The All Aspect Report that she and her husband can “hear the hacking” from people on the street in front of their home. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend that that city’s leadership is “preparing” to make shelters safer.

Governor Gavin Newsom has fared somewhat better, though like so many other members of the political class he’s shown a lack of creative problem-solving. Mostly he’s holding long, meandering press conferences as is his wont, though he’s refrained from overt partisanship. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to believe that part of his job is to post as many videos as he can of his celebrity friends telling Americans what to do (Note to the Governor: Most Americans reflexively do the opposite of whatever Alec Baldwin says).

When the story of this crisis is written, the coda may well be the beginning of the end of America’s two legacy parties. If this is the best they can do in the face of a life and death crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of 330 million people, they do not deserve to lead. For the last three and a half years they’ve treated the country to the worst forms of partisanship, all too often comporting themselves like entitled, self-involved children. The GOP has enabled and encouraged Donald Trump’s most egregious conduct, while the Democrats all but abandoned any semblance of effective governance in an all-out, at all costs campaign to destroy him.

They could have seized this moment, as those who came before them, to rise above that perpetual, exhausting fray to deliver leadership and reassurance. They could have shown Americans they are capable of setting aside personal vitriol and political vendettas. They could have behaved like adults, like leaders.

Their failure must not be forgotten nor forgiven. When this is all over, there must be a reckoning, and Americans must hold the political class to account for its failures. The next crisis may not be so gentle with us.

UPDATED: Spate of crime at new Venice Beach “A Bridge Home” homeless shelter has neighbors on edge

“I feel like a prisoner in my own home”

VENICE BEACH, Ca (March 4, 2020) The scene outside the Venice Beach “A Bridge Home” shelter. The men in custody are accused of smashing car windows and threatening a woman. Note the graffiti on the gate. Screen shot from Citizen app.

They said it wouldn’t be like this. Officials including Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin promised that the “A Bridge Home” initiative, which provides temporary housing and services to the chronically homeless, would bring vulnerable people indoors while providing relief to communities from the street crime, drug use, and public endangerment that often accompany illegal encampments. They’re betting hundreds of millions of the public’s money on it.

In one Venice Beach neighborhood, unfortunately, A Bridge Home shelter has had the opposite effect.

In the week since officials celebrated the opening of a new Bridge facility at the old Metro bus maintenance facility on Main Street in the heart of a residential neighborhood three blocks from the Venice boardwalk, people have reported and documented dozens of crimes and public disturbances. The incidents occur at all hours of the day and night and include assault, sexual assault, fights, vandalism, graffiti, illegal camping, public defecation, drug use, and disturbances of the peace. On social media and via email residents have shared frightening experiences, videos, and pictures. A tense email thread between some 60 neighbors and Councilman Mike Bonin’s Venice Bridge Home Deputy, Allison Wilhite, began the day the facility opened.

Single women and mothers are among the most vocal residents. They’ve expressed fear for their personal safety and even their lives, and collectively their experiences reveal a worrying degree of lawlessness.

On March 3 at 8:20pm, resident Soledad Ursura wrote to Ms. Wilhite, “I was just on a nightly walk with my dog which I do at the same hour every night. There were three male youths coming from Bridge Housing walking towards me and they asked if they could get a cigarette off me. I said no, and as they passed me they started telling me things they wished they could do to me and that I was a bitch for not talking to them, and to keep my head down and keep pretending to talk to my dog. Something similar happened last night as well.” As a legal matter this amounts to a sexual assault.

On the morning of March 4 another neighbor wrote, “I’m a single woman 2 blocks away. It’s now unsafe for me to step out of my house without my dog and mace. And I’ve been here for 20 years and never experienced this before.” Within minutes yet another echoed her experience, “I too am a single woman living across the street and I don’t feel safe. I have already been followed twice. I can’t enjoy my life in Venice anymore.”

An hour later yet another woman wrote, “I am starting to feel like a prisoner in my own home while these vagrants harass and assault people, shoot up on our door steps, vandalize our homes, start fires and invade our properties! I have had several incidents when I am afraid to leave my home, another incident with someone very high and mentally unstable on my driveway when I came home from grocery shopping that I was afraid to get out of my car and unload my groceries into my OWN HOME. I fear for my life. I have had vagrants ring my door bell at 2:45 am and 12:15 a.m.”

There have been multiple instances virtually every day since the facility opened. For example, in a span of three hours on Wednesday, March 4:

  • At around 4pm Venice resident Vicki Halliday called police to report that a man had threatened to kill her. The incident took place across the street from the Bridge facility’s entrance. After confronting Ms. Halliday he went on a spree and smashed the windows, hoods, and roofs of at least half a dozen cars – with his body. LAPD arrested the man, whom The All Aspect Report confirmed is a resident of the Bridge facility.
  • An hour later another woman reported that her 14-pound dog was attacked by a resident’s much larger dog as they walked past the shelter entrance. Fortunately, her dog was uninjured.
  • An hour after that, yet another woman reported a man defecating in her front yard.

These incidents occurred over just three hours on a single day. According to interviews with dozens of residents, it’s a typical afternoon in this neighborhood since the shelter opened.

There have been incidents inside the shelter as well. On Monday a resident posted a picture and message on the Facebook group Venice United: “Around 10:30 on Monday, March 2, at least five LAPD patrol cars were spotted responding to an apparent fight inside the shelter. Later that same night a man filmed several apparently intoxicated individuals walking down his street having a screaming fight.”

The community’s experience in the first week has been a far cry from official promises. On Councilman Bonin’s Bridge Home Venice webpage is the promise, “RESIDENTS WILL BE GOOD NEIGHBORS – Each temporary housing facility built as part of the Bridge Home initiative will be required to abide by rules that protect neighbors from any nuisance. There will be on-site management and on-site security, and opportunities for neighbors to discuss other operational rules before the facility is opened.”

Likewise, at a February 25 ceremony celebrating the shelter’s opening, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared, “Today’s opening is a reminder that people across Los Angeles are saying `yes’ to delivering the housing, healing and hope our unhoused neighbors need and deserve.”

It’s a safe bet that few people in Venice believed they were saying yes to this kind of “housing, healing and hope.” Other documented disturbances in the facility’s first week have included individuals passed out on sidewalks, in driveways, carports, and front yards. Individuals have been reported pounding on front doors and ringing doorbells in the middle of the night. On the shelter’s opening night a resident filmed traffic including a Metro bus stopped in front of the shelter as a group of individuals fought in the street.

Officials promise help is on the way, but concerns remain

City officials including Ms. Wilhite assure neighbors matters will improve once the LAPD sets up a Special Enforcement and Cleaning Zone (SECZ) in the area. SECZs include dedicated LAPD foot patrols, four days a week of bulky item pick-up, a weekly dedicated cleaning, and additional outreach by personnel from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

However, the city will not establish the zone until March 9, nearly two weeks after the bridge shelter opened. In response to queries from residents Ms. Wilhite sent a statement to neighbors and members of the media:

The decision to wait until March 9 was made after having conversations with the Unified Homeless Response Center (aka UHRC, the Mayor’s Office team that coordinates the enhanced services), LAHSA, LAPD Pacific Division, and other Council District Offices that have opened an A Bridge Home. Each have different perspectives on the best timing, and all for good reasons.

The experience in other Council Districts has been that starting the SECZ the same day as intake can cause a lot of movement and frustration among unhoused people and make it harder for our outreach teams to bring people to site for their intake appointment. We know residents have waited a long time for these enhanced services to start, and we want to honor that as soon as possible, while also ensuring we can effectively and efficiently open the site to our unhoused neighbors. There are requests from the community that we delay it longer, even upwards of 90 days, but we are hopeful these two weeks will let our outreach teams and on site service providers do their work to open the site successfully.

In the meantime she told neighbors to call 911 for emergencies, 1-800-ASK-LAPD and the local LAPD Senior Lead Officers for non-emergencies, and the city’s 311 neighborhood services line for issues like graffiti removal.

UPDATE 3/7: The All Aspect Report reached out to Ms. Wilhite via email on Thursday afternoon to ask about services, security, and rules at the Venice Bridge housing facility. She forwarded those questions to representatives at PATH, SPY, and LAHSA. As of the end of the day on Friday none had responded.

There are reasons to question whether the new services, when the do start, will have an impact. Thanks to laws like Prop 47 and initiatives like restorative justice many of the crimes neighbors are enduring in Venice Beach are no longer priorities for police, much less prosecutors. What can police do when politicians tie their hands? Across the City of Los Angeles it has become depressingly familiar to see homeless people and vagrants engage in lawless behavior in plain full of law enforcement, with no consequences. Those who are arrest all too often are back on the streets in a matter of days, often hours. How can neighbors trust officials who have already broken so many promises when they say this time will be different?

Indeed, Ms. Halliday told The All Aspect Report crimes already are being ignored. She wrote in an email, “All weekend, shelter residents hung out and smoked weed or did their meth doses. A dealer is conveniently located in an RV on Main Street across from the Google building.” However, she added, “LAPD has had a problem dealing with the dealer for some reason even though many of them have witnessed the exchanges.” She said she has personally witnessed transactions.

VENICE BEACH, Ca (March 1, 2020) Dozens of RVs, campers, vans, and cars occupied by homeless people, including drug dealers, line Main Street near the new bridge shelter.

It has taken less than a week for three years’ worth of promises to be broken, with devastating consequences for countless neighbors. Meanwhile, officials are forging ahead with dozens more Bridge facilities throughout the City of Los Angeles.

It’s almost as if they have priorities besides helping the homeless.

UPDATE 3/17: Disruptions continued outside the bridge facility a week after the SECZ allegedly began: Video shows several young men fighting at the entrance to the bridge facility, several of whom subsequently approached and accosted a journalist covering the incident.

VENICE BEACH (March 17, 2020) Men in front of the A Bridge Home facility in Venice Beach. Three of them accosted and threatened a journalist. Screen shot from a video by Christopher LeGras

UPDATED: Los Angeles District Attorney candidate George Gascon uses image of police officer, badge, and car in official campaign materials

Picture raises ethical and legal questions

Screenshot from georgegascon.org, captured 2/22/2020

2/25 NOTE: This post has been updated with information from the Gascon campaign and additional analysis.

The man running to replace Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey as the county’s top law enforcement official seems willing to bend ethics and campaign laws to advance his ambitions. George Gascon, who resigned as San Francisco’s District Attorney less than five months ago to run in L.A., faces staunch resistance from police. While he has been endorsed by a handful of retired law enforcement officials from L.A. County, most notably former Police Chief Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) has endorsed Ms. Lacey and has spent more than a million dollars in an effort to defeat Mr. Gascon. The Los Angeles Times reported today that Lacey also has received funding and support from the L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies union, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, and the L.A. County prosecutors union.

In the face of this opposition from law enforcement it seems Mr. Gascon decided to conjure some police support in a way that raises questions.

His official campaign website prominently features an image, which as of this writing remains live, showing him walking and talking with a uniformed police officer in front of a police cruiser. The officer and the vehicle appear to be from the LAPD: The uniform color, style, and badge are consistent with the city’s police force, and the cruiser in the background looks like an LAPD Ford Explorer, with a black hood and grill. Given that Mr. Gascon is seeking office in Los Angeles, voters reasonably will conclude that the officer in the picture is with the LAPD.

The image thus implies police support for his candidacy: Indeed, it appears as the header on the campaign’s “Endorsements” page, with the word superimposed. The picture also appears on the campaign’s homepage next to a solicitation for $100 campaign contributions.

Screenshot from georgegascon.org, captured 2/22/2020

An email on Friday to the Gascon campaign was not initially returned. However, after this story was published attorney Maxwell Szabo wrote an email on the campaign’s behalf in which he defended the use of the image. “The officer in the photo was off-duty. The uniform was rented, as was the police car. We have receipts for both,” he wrote.

California state law prohibits uniformed police and other law enforcement officers from making endorsements while in uniform. Specifically, Government Code Section 3206 says that an officer or employee of a local agency may not “participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.”

In 2012 Sheriff Lee Baca acknowledged breaking the law when he appeared in a video endorsing Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich for D.A. while in uniform. Sheriff Baca later apologized and Trutanich’s campaign removed the video. Last year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation into an event at the County Fire Authority’s headquarters. The O.C. firefighters union invited candidates they supported to wear official city firefighting gear, including fire department emblems. The candidates also participated in mock firefighting exercises.

The Gascon campaign’s photograph appears to be something of a legal novelty: The campaign used a real off-duty cop to simulate a real on-duty one. The active but off-duty LAPD officer wears a rented uniform that looks to the untrained eye to be LAPD issue, and he’s standing with Mr. Gascon in front of a rented car that looks like an LAPD cruiser. It raises the question, is it a violation of state law for a real police officer in a fake but realistic uniform to appear in official campaign materials, particularly on an “Endorsements” page?

It also raises the question of why the Gascon campaign is going to such great lengths to create an impression of police support. If, as Mr. Szabo says, the officer in the photograph is with the LAPD, and if he does endorse Mr. Gascon (law enforcement officers are allowed to make personal endorsements on their own time) why hasn’t the campaign identified him?

When contacted by the All Aspect Report, LAPPL President Craig Lally said in an email, “George Gascon continues to try and con voters into thinking he has the support of frontline police officers. He doesn’t and there’s a reason why. He was an absolute failure in San Francisco as DA, combining skyrocketing crime and out of control open air drug markets with a record of hiding evidence and making up phony crime stats.” Mr. Lally added, “It’s ironic that he mocks police officers one moment, then uses our image to raise funds for his deceitful campaign the next.” Mr. Lally’s statement also referred to an advertisement the LAPPL has been running on television stations in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League has spent more than a million dollars on advertisements opposing George Gascon’s candidacy for District Attorney. Screenshot from one of the LAPPL’s ads.

Mr. Gascon is running for a position of significant public trust in the County of Los Angeles. As the crime rate – whether prosecuted or not – continues to grow, the role of District Attorney is becoming more important than ever. The police oppose his candidacy, largely due to his co-authorship of Proposition 47. Police say that law, which reduced many felonies to misdemeanors and retroactively downgraded convictions for as many as 10,000 felons, was sold to voters misleadingly as “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” Law enforcement agencies and associations statewide blame Prop 47 for increased crime, addiction, and homelessness (there is evidence for their position).

Regardless of any legalities, the fundamental issue remains that Mr. Gascon’s campaign went out of its way to give the impression of police support. Mr. Gascon obviously is aware of their opposition, and more to the point he’s aware of the law. Nevertheless his campaign appears to be trying to fool voters into thinking otherwise: Based on the totality of factors – the uniform, badge, sidearm, and apparent police cruiser – the picture seems carefully crafted to lead voters to conclude that Mr. Gascon has police support.

Angelenos should ask themselves if they want to entrust enforcement of the law to someone who seems determined to deceive them.

California’s homeless are fodder for an insatiable bureaucracy

The state’s political class will never solve the homeless crisis. In fact, they depend on it.

History is replete with tragic examples of powerful rulers sending citizens to die in futile wars, often with little more at stake than the rulers’ own egos. The term “cannon fodder” was coined by François-René de Chateaubriand during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1814, as Napoleon Bonaparte grew ever more desperate to preserve his collapsing empire Chateaubriand wrote a pamphlet called “Bonaparte and The Bourbons” in which he excoriated the French dictator: “The contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling conscripts ‘raw material’ and ‘cannon fodder.'” Thousands of young men were killed or wounded on the battlefields of Nivelle, Bayonne, and Toulouse in a vain effort to sustain a dying imperium. The most visceral example of cannon fodder is the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, in which the combined megalomania of Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler led to the deaths of some two million combatants and tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in the bloodiest military confrontation in history. Two million deaths in the name of two men’s imperial ambitions.

In the twenty-first century California’s political class has created a new kind of human silage: Bureaucracy fodder. The state’s homeless population supports a head-spinning array of well-funded government agencies, nonprofits, charities, foundations, think tanks, law firms, consultants, and developers, all funded and enabled by the state’s (allegedly progressive) political class. As people suffer and die on the streets by the thousands these Brahmins rake in the paychecks, plan scores of multimillion dollar “affordable” and “low income” development projects, hold extravagant galas, and attend posh retreats and “team building” events while clothing themselves in the guise of altruism and community.

While developers vie for literally billions in project funds, many executives on both the public and private side of this archipelago make handsome six-figure salaries, such as disgraced former Congresswoman Katie Hill. Before leaving to run for office she was making nearly $200,000 a year as deputy CEO of a nonprofit called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) – at the age of 27. That organization itself has grown its revenue from $8.3 million in fiscal year 2012 to $45.8 million last year. The organization’s CEO, Joel Roberts, made $241,370.

In Los Angeles County, homeless services are coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). According to Transparent California, in 2014 LAHSA had 118 employees, nine of whom made over $100,000 a year. As the homeless population grew so did LAHSA’s staff: By 2018, the agency had grown to 424 employees, with 31 earning six figures and another 16 earning more than $90,000. The Director pulled down $242,242 (coincidentally nearly identical to Mr. Roberts’s salary at PATH). Assuming an average salary of $50,000 LAHSA spends $21.5 million annually on salaries alone. As LAHSA has grown so has the county’s homeless crisis. Coincidence?

At the state level, the Department of Social Services employs more than 4,200 people whose jobs – theoretically – are to help California’s poorest residents get back on their feet. Nearly 100 employees make more than $200,000 a year, with the Director, William Lightbourne, receiving $313,760. And the state’s homeless crisis grows. Coincidence?

These numbers, which are just a few of myriad examples, raise obvious questions: What would those 424 LAHSA employees do for a living if they were to actually end homelessness in Los Angeles? The answer is equally obvious: If they were to eliminate homelessness and poverty, they’d have to find new jobs. And no one in their right mind intentionally puts themselves out of work.

It’s important to understand that these people are not contractors, nor consultants hired to solve a problem and then move on to the next one. They are full-time, salaried employees. Public employees also receive generous benefits packages and as many as 45 days of paid vacation annually (many take even more time off). Presumably most of them expect to have their jobs for years and decades, and many will retire with their nonprofit or government agency. For that to happen the homeless crisis must continue in perpetuity.

Equally important is the fact that the public employees are dues paying union members. LAHSA’s employees are part of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most powerful in the country (their most recent collective bargaining agreement is quite the read). Those unions are among the most important sources of campaign contributions for California’s Democrat majority, adding yet another layer of self-interest.

The famed economist William Niskanen developed the budget maximizing theory of bureaucracies. He showed how bureaucrats acting in their own rational self-interest seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their power. It’s axiomatic that success in government is a matter of raising your department’s budget and headcount. In the context of homeless services this phenomenon creates the ultimate paradox: The only way for an agency whose mission is to end homelessness can justify increasing its staff and budget is if there are ever increasing numbers of homeless people in the state. Perhaps that’s why Governor Newsom said during a recent tour of a homeless shelter in L.A. that, “Many [homeless people] see California as a place of compassion. If that’s the case, we match our values with action, and as people of faith, we have a responsibility to all of them, regardless of whether they got here last week, last month, or were born here 30 years ago.” That statement amounts to a blank check thrown at the feet of bureaucrats and nonprofit executives.

As barbaric as tyrants’ use of human beings as cannon fodder was, it arguably was more humane than California’s bureaucratic fodder. Soldiers died relatively quickly from combat wounds or – more frequently – illness and exposure. In contrast, California’s bureaucratic fodder suffer excruciating circumstances for months, years, even decades. So long as the solutions are in the hands of self-interested bureaucrats, nothing will change.

Fifteen years ago officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco pledged to end homelessness in ten years. What happened?

Officials including Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were part of efforts that came to nothing.

“This Bring L.A. Home plan initiates a 10 year plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles County.” Bring L.A. Home final report, co-authored by then-Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, April 2006

“We can cut this problem in half in five years. And in 10 years we can end life on the street.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, March 2018

“The plan produced by the Ten-Year Planning Council is both a blueprint and a bold step toward a new and revolutionary way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, June 30, 2004

“This crisis has been more than a half century in the making, and this Administration is just getting started on solutions.” Governor Gavin Newsom, October 19, 2019

Advocates for changes to California’s approach to homelessness were disappointed this morning when the Supreme Court denied certiorari in City of Boise v. Martin. The petitioners in that case sought to challenge a 2018 Ninth Circuit ruling preventing cities from citing or fining people for camping in public spaces overnight unless alternative shelter is available. In reality, even though more than a dozen cities in the western U.S. urged the Court to take the case, like all petitions to the high court review was always a long shot.

Nevertheless, it is being viewed as another setback as California’s homeless crisis continues to spiral with no end in sight. In Los Angeles public anger erupts routinely and with increasing frequency on social media, at community events, and at town halls hosted by city councilmembers. It has spawned an effort to recall Mayor Eric Garcetti and prompted calls for the resignations of Councilmembers including Mike Bonin and Paul Kerkorian. Mr. Bonin has all but stopped appearing in public outside of carefully stage-managed events.

Angry residents confronted Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin in Venice last year. Photograph by Christopher LeGras

In fact, officials in Los Angeles and across California have been failing for far longer than most people realize. In 2018 Mayor Garcetti promised to end chronic homelessness in ten years. The pledge came on the heels of his 2014 pledge to house all of the city’s homeless veterans, first by 2015 and then 2016 (he eventually scrapped the timeline). Back in 2013, during his first mayoral run, Garcetti vowed to end chronic homelessness in ten years. Likewise, upon assuming office as Mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Gavin Newsom pledged to end homelessness in that city within – wait for it – ten years.

California’s political class has not lacked for grand plans, all of which seem to fall under the ten year category. Mayor Newsom’s pledge was accompanied by the formation of a “Ten Year Plan Council” comprised of 33 local leaders. Advocates criticized the body for being too heavy on political insiders and light on subject matter experts. Nevertheless, they released their Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness in July 2004.

Likewise in 2004, the City and County of Los Angeles convened their own “blue ribbon commission” called Bring L.A. Home, to study homelessness and recommend workable solutions. Like San Francisco’s Council the 60 members comprised a who’s who of ensconced city insiders and power brokers, including Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry, Mike Feuer, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, then LAPD Chief William Bratton, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

The result of Bring L.A. Home’s efforts was a report released in April 2006. As in San Francisco the authors promised “a 10-year campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles County by setting forth a broad range of strategies that address a multitude of issues related to homelessness.” They declared, “Nothing of the magnitude proposed by this Plan has been attempted before in Los Angeles.”

It turned out that nothing proposed by the plan was attempted, either. Today the website https://www.bringlahome.org redirects to what appears to be an Indonesian consulting firm (caution: possibly unsafe website). Email and telephone inquiries to several members of the blue ribbon committee were not returned.

Officials like Messrs. Newsom and Garcetti have been failing for nearly two decades

When Bring L.A. Home released its report and recommendations, Eric Garcetti was president of the City Council. No one other than Mayor Villaraigosa himself was better positioned to turn words into action. Yet nothing happened. No new housing was built, no programs launched. Now, fifteen years later, Mayor Garcetti rarely goes a month without a new, equally grandiose plan.

In the midst of the worst homeless crisis in history Eric Garcetti moved into the mayor’s mansion, Getty House, in Hancock Park.

The road to Hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. Bring L.A. Home and San Francisco’s Ten Year Plan were nothing if not ambitious. The Chair of San Francisco’s Council, the consummate insider Angela Alioto, declared, “For the first time in the twenty years that I have been in public life, I feel the united excitement, the electric energy, the profound intelligence, and the strong will to end chronic homelessness in our great City.”

Likewise, L.A.’s blue ribbon commission said, “In the last twenty years, bold initiatives to end homelessness have come and gone.” Ironically their plan quickly joined that sad retinue, as the city’s approach to the issue devolved into a money grab by officials complete with allegations of impropriety, nepotism, and outright fraud (an excellent 2012 article in CityWatch by then-mayoral candidate and current president of L.A.’s Public Works Commission Kevin James highlighted some of the abuses).

Then again there’s good cause to question whether the reports themselves, and the individuals behind them, were serious. L.A.’s plan was replete with gauzy lingo that belied an underlying lack of focus, much less specific actionable steps. Indeed, much of it consisted of virtually incomprehensible bureaucrat speak: We must build, support and develop funding and legislative strategies for 50,000 new units. As a matter of urgency, we must create at least 11,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI) and 15% of AMI, including 4,900 units of housing linked to services and 2,845 units made affordable through tenant-based deep subsidies. We cannot be complacent, however, as we need to develop an additional 38,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% and 15% of AMI, including increasing from 4,900 to 21,000 the number of units of housing linked to services and from 2,845 to 12,452 the number of units made affordable through deep tenant-based subsidies.

If you can translate that, please email us.

Moreover, consider that over a decade later, with none of the units proposed in Bring L.A. Home having been built, voters in the City of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to support 10,000 new units in 10 years. That works out to $120,000 each, compared to the 2008 Plan’s anticipated $165,000. Apparently, officials thought that in ten years construction costs in L.A. had dropped by 30%. Of course, Angelenos know now that the actual costs are averaging more than $500,000 per unit, with some projects potentially exceeding $700,000 per unit.

Worse, in October Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a damning report that concluded, “Not a single bond-funded unit of homeless housing has opened since voters approved the bond measure three years ago.” And if the units end up costing on the low end of $500,000 each it would require $18 billion to house all of the city’s 36,000 homeless. That’s nearly twice the city’s total annual budget. To house all 59,000 homeless people in the county would cost nearly $30 billion. Suffice it to say, these are not real numbers. They are no more real than the math found in Bring L.A. Home all those years ago. Meanwhile, according to San Francisco’s 2004 Plan there were an estimated 15,000 homeless people in the city by the bay that year. Last year there were at least 17,500. And the conditions in which homeless people exist statewide continue to deteriorate.

While the political classes in L.A. and San Francisco are the worst offenders, they are tragically far from alone:

  • In 2006 the City of Sacramento released a Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The homeless population in that city has continued to increase, including a 20% spike in 2017 alone.
  • In 2006 Marin County issued a report called “The Next Decade: Marin County’s Ten Year Homeless Plan.” Nearly ten years later the Marin County Grand Jury released a report entitled “Homelessness in Marin —A Call for Leadership.” That report concluded that County-wide efforts were “unfocused and disorganized due to a lack of collaboration between the County, the cities, and the service organizations.” A subsequent 2018 “progress report” concluded, “This Grand Jury sees homelessness as a continuing and urgent problem in the County worthy of reconsideration” (Marin did report a drop in its official homeless population last year).
  • In 2006 Alameda County released a report called Everyone Home, which “outline[d] a reorientation of housing and service systems to end chronic homelessness within ten years and significantly reduce housing crises for these vulnerable populations in Alameda County over fifteen years.” Over the last three years Alameda has led the state in the rate of increase in its homeless population.

Numerous studies have concluded that California’s official homeless numbers, based on federally-mandated annual counts, are highly suspect. The true numbers are significantly higher. To cite one of myriad examples, a 2014 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research estimated that 526,708 children were homeless for any amount of time in California in 2013. One in four Californians live in Los Angeles County, suggesting that as many as 131,677 children experienced homelessness in L.A. that year, or more than three and a half times the total number of reported homeless that year. And that was six years ago, before the problem truly spiraled.

As the cliche goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. While not strictly accurate it’s an excellent description of conditions in California.

How many more chances will Californians give to the same failed leaders?

UPDATED: California homelessness is a humanitarian crisis. It’s time to call in the military.

Handing authority for the crisis to Donald Trump is likely too much for most California politicians to stomach. They should consider it anyway.

Meulaboh, Sumatra, Indonesia (Jan. 10, 2005) – A Landing Craft Air Cushion vehicle from the USS Bonhomme Richard delivers desperately needed supplies to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, in support of Operation Unified Assistance, the U.S. led humanitarian response to the December 26, 2014 tsunami in Southeast Asia. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Bart A. Bauer.

One of the first things you see after a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis virtually anywhere on earth is the arrival of a United States Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster loaded with food, medical supplies, and personnel. Within 24 hours of the devastating 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia the United States dispatched C-17, C-5 Galaxy, and C-130 Hercules cargo planes to the region. National Guard and regular service personnel immediately began providing shelter, clean water, food, medicine, sanitation, and search and rescue operations from Indonesia to Madigascar. They were the first wave of what would become Operation Unified Assistance, the largest relief effort since the Berlin Airlift. It involved some 15,000 personnel, two aircraft carrier task forces, a Marine expeditionary unit, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, and countless vehicles and rotary and fixed wing aircraft. Within ten days of the earthquake the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier arrived in the region and began 24-hour-a-day flight operations, including search and rescue. At the peak of the operation the U.S. and a dozen other countries were delivering more than 100,000 pounds of supplies every 24 hours. Less than a year later, some of those same personnel and resources were on the ground in cities and towns throughout the southeastern U.S. providing relief to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

It would take a fraction of that response to aid every single homeless person in Los Angeles in a matter of weeks. Instead, politicians at the local and state level dither with multi-billion dollar plans for $7 million “bridge housing” and $700,000 units of “permanent supportive housing.” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s grand plan is 10,000 units in 10 years. In other words, housing sufficient for less than a third of the city’s current chronic homeless population, in a decade. These are not serious plans. These are not serious people.

In contrast, the military has a long tradition of assisting in and coordinating humanitarian efforts in extreme circumstances, often performing heroically. Historians credit an Army general, Frederick Funston, for saving what was left of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires. He was deputy commander of the division stationed at the Presidio. Within hours of the quake, his troops were throughout the city fighting fires, establishing relief camps, setting up kitchens to feed the survivors, providing medical aid to the injured, re-establishing sanitation, establishing security (there was a spate of looting), and assisting in rescue operations. They saved thousands of lives and prevented the complete annihilation of the city by fire and human mischief.

A U.S. Army emergency relief camp on Potrero Hill after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Potrero Archives Project.

The military responds to human-caused disasters as well. Operation Tomodachi was the U.S. response to the March 11, 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. It lasted two months and included 24,000 personnel, 189 aircraft, and the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier task force along with two amphibious carriers, two destroyers, an amphibious dock ship, and other surface vessels. U.S. service members assisted in everything from harbor cleanups to freshwater delivery, search and rescue to decontamination.

YOKOTA, Japan (March 17, 2011) Senior Airman Eva Gaus, left, and Senior Airman Jonathan Jones, assigned to 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, indicate all clear to a C-17 Globemaster III pilot after checking for radiation at Yokota Air Base. U.S. Navy photo by Yasuo Osakabe

The military often is the only entity with the experience, human and material resources, and discipline to respond to major crises, and they often are the most effective resources on the ground. Even as the George W. Bush administration and FEMA bungled their responses to Hurricane Katrina, the disaster was hailed as one of the National Guard’s finest hours for its rescue efforts. Certainly there were hitches, but as with so many other examples the military saved countless lives and properties and prevented the outbreak of mass lawlessness.

The scale of the California homeless crisis demands a national response

It’s time to call in those resources to tackle California’s homeless crisis. The magnitude of the catastrophe, which state leadership has allowed to metastasize for decades, is as dire as any of the examples mentioned above. Officially, some 130,000 people were homeless in the state last year. The official number likely is off by as much as an order of magnitude. According to an authoritative 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research, in 2013 as many as 526,000 children experienced homelessness in California. And that was six years ago, before the crisis truly began to spiral. The report also ranked the state 49th in planning and policies related to child homelessness.

Approximately 1,833 people lost their lives during and after Hurricane Katrina. In 2017, the last year for which numbers are available, at least 2,000 homeless people died in California. In 2019, more than 1,000 homeless people died in Los Angeles County. That’s a death every nine hours, in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in human history. And again, those are just the official numbers. Meanwhile it has been widely reported that diseases associated with the middle ages – typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis – are spreading in homeless camps across the state. There are legitimate fears of an outbreak of bubonic plague as soon as later this summer, and God help the Southland if coronavirus arrives. Police officers, firefighters, and volunteers working in homeless communities routinely report all manner of ailments, ranging from inexplicable coughs to influenza and typhus.

Homeless encampments also present terrifying risks of fire. In December 2017 a homeless cook fire got out of control in West Los Angeles and sparked a brush fire that consumed seven houses in Bel Air and threatened the Getty Center and its priceless art collections and research centers. A fire captain in downtown Los Angeles recently told The All Aspect Report that his crews are called to douse dumpster fires several times a day. He said they refer to one of their trucks as “the dumpster fire tender.” Homeless fires are a daily occurrence from the San Fernando Valley to the Bay Area, the state capital to remote Butte County. It’s a literal version of Russian roulette, and it’s only a matter of time before one of those fires gets out of control and becomes the state’s next Camp Fire.

LOS ANGELES, California (December 7, 2017) Angelenos’ evening commute became a harrowing ordeal during the Skirball Fire, which was sparked by a homeless cook fire (screen capture from KNBC report)

The fires are just one aspect of the lawlessness that California’s homeless crisis has created. Vandalism, assault, drug sales, public intoxication, disturbing the peace, public defecation, even prostitution and attempted murder all have become terrifyingly commonplace. Meanwhile, thanks to laws like Prop 47, more than a dozen felonies including armed assault have been downgraded to misdemeanors. Prosecutors like San Francisco’s Chesea Boudin have all but stopped prosecuting so-called quality of life crimes. Even violent felons, attempted kidnappers, attempted rapists, routinely walk after a few hours in jail. As a result of these fundamental breakdowns in criminal law, many – perhaps most – crimes aren’t even reported anymore. Why bother calling 911 when you know no one’s coming, much less following up and prosecuting?

If the scope of these issues doesn’t justify federal intervention it’s hard to see what would. California has hit rock bottom.

Local and state services are overwhelmed, and officials aren’t up to the task

It has been clear for several years that state and local authorities are overwhelmed. As previously reported in these pages, under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “bridge housing” plan the City of Los Angeles is spending an average of $55,000 per bed for temporary dormitory style housing. Accepting the official count of 36,900 homeless in the city, it would cost more than $2 billion to provide rudimentary shelter to all of them. The shelters also cost an average of $50,000 per bed per year to operate, meaning the city would spend $2 billion to construct the shelters and then $2 billion a year to maintain and operate them. These are not real numbers

The official response becomes even more absurd with permanent housing. When pitching Measure HHH to L.A. voters, Mayor Garcetti promised the city would build 10,000 units over the next ten years at a cost of $1.8 billion. That wouldn’t put so much as a dent in the crisis. Moreover, in reality those permanent units cost an average of $450,000 with some running more than $700,000 each.

In contrast, consider that an Army mobile hospital and shelter can be set up for a few hundred thousand dollars in a matter of hours. These facilities provide a range of emergency and supportive services, including sanitary and medical facilities, triage, accommodation, security, kitchens, pharmacies, storage, and communal gathering places. In a fraction of the time that city and state governments spend dithering over what color to paint a new bridge facility, the National Guard and other military elements could have shelters up and running statewide, helping people, saving lives, and rescuing communities.

LOCATION UNKNOWN – The Army can set up a camp like this in less than a day for a few hundred thousand dollars…..
….while the City of Los Angeles took three years and $9 million to put up one of these in Venice.

The military branches collectively possess countless years of experience in confronting all manner of humanitarian disasters. Who better to solve California’s homeless crisis than the men and women who have been on the ground in places Paradise, New Orleans, Haiti, Indonesia, and hundreds of other crisis points? Would Californians rather continue to trust that the politicians will figure it out, eventually and given enough money? It is time to call in the professionals who have demonstrated time and again their capabilities under the most challenging circumstances.

Potential legal and constitutional questions

The President has authority to deploy military units domestically for certain purposes. Under the Posse Comitatus Act the military can conduct non-law enforcement operations including humanitarian missions so long as they do not act as a police or quasi-police force. Likewise, National Guard units can be activated by either their state government or the federal government. The differences are in who pays the bills and who’s in charge. When a state deploys its National Guard, the state pays and the governor serves as commander in chief. In contrast, the President or Secretary of Defense can call up units to support overseas military operations, in which case the federal government pays and is in command. Guard activation also can be a hybrid: Federally funded while remaining under state control, such as during Hurricane Katrina and the Camp Fire.

Suffice it to say it is highly unlikely that Governor Newsom will activate the Guard at the state level to respond to a homeless crisis he himself had a hand in creating over the last twenty years. It would be to admit the failure of state and local efforts to address the crisis. Moreover, in the current environment of Democratic politics it simply would be untenable: Before the first tent was erected the cries of “concentration camps” would begin from the party’s newly dominant Sandersnista Left wing.

There is, however, another alternative.

Precedents in the Civil Rights Era

There is at least some precedent for Presidents using the military and calling up the National Guard without a state declaration, under extraordinary circumstances and even in defiance of state government. For example, the President can use the military and activate a state’s Guard units when citizens’ civil rights are threatened by state action. The most famous examples were President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s use of the Guard to enforce public school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 and President John F. Kennedy use of the Alabama and Mississippi National Guard to enforce desegregation efforts in those states in the early 1960s. In all cases presidents acted over the strenuous objections of governors.

Perhaps the most salient example is President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to federalize the Alabama National Guard in 1965. Johnson had been deeply troubled by images of peaceful civil rights protestors being attacked by police dogs, doused with fire hoses, and tear gassed and beaten in the streets of Selma on March 7, 1965, known as “Bloody Sunday.” Infuriated after the state’s governor – the noxious Democrat segregationist George Wallace – reneged on a promise to use state authorities to protect the protests, Johnson unilaterally activated 10,000 Alabama Guard troops and dispatched them to the city. From March 20-25, 1965 some 3,000 Guard and regular Army troops escorted Martin Luther King, Jr. and 50,000 protesters on their march from Selma to Montgomery, where King delivered one of his most famous orations, “How Long, Not Long.”

SELMA, Alabama (March 20, 1965) A soldier protects Civil Rights activists on their march from Selma to Montgomery. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The 1965 example is particularly applicable because Johnson’s legal and constitutional justification for taking control of the Alabama National Guard was civil rights. Albeit in a different context, today’s homeless are subject to routine civil rights and constitutional deprivations by the very authorities charged with preserving them. Hundreds of thousands of Californians live on the streets, in beat-up campers, in abandoned buildings unfit for human habitation. Hundreds of thousands of children languish in similar and sometimes worse conditions. Millions of innocent citizens also have their rights trammeled every day, from the handicapped little girl who can’t get down the sidewalk in Venice in her wheelchair because dozens of tents block her way to the average Jane or Joe who has to navigate sidewalks covered in human excrement while wondering if today will be the day the plague arrives.

It will require diligent research by constitutional scholars. A process may look something like this: President Trump could declare a national state of emergency over the homeless crisis (while California is by far the worst, states nationwide are grappling with their own versions of the catastrophe). He could demand that governors in the worst affected states call up their Guard units to begin immediate humanitarian operations. When those governors invariably refuse, the President could activate their National Guard units as a necessary to the preservation of millions of people’s civil rights and safety.

Of course, for many in this deep blue state the idea of giving Donald Trump authority to do anything is a non-starter. There would be inevitable comparisons to the President’s decision to send troops to the southern border. Then again, military professionals haven’t been shy about shutting down Trump’s more jingoistic tendencies in that arena. Moreover, Californians would do well to look at the Camp Fire as an example. Despite the occasional (and characteristic) inflammatory Tweet the President stayed out of the Guard’s way and let them do their job. That is what should be expected of federal efforts to deal with homelessness in the state.

It’s time for Californians to acknowledge the state’s abject failure to solve the homeless crisis. It’s time to acknowledge that the bureaucratic amateurs had their chance and only made things worse. It’s time for the President to declare a state of emergency in California.

It’s time to send in the military.

The economic, social, and environmental injustices of L.A.’s misguided mass transit system

The political class’s obsession with splashy big budget projects like light rail wastes billions and deprives vulnerable citizens of decent transportation. It’s also terrible for the environment, small businesses, and even global stability (seriously).

With apologies to Jim Morrison, the Big Blue Bus is calling us….Except we’re not listening.

LOS ANGELES – Certain phrases come to define certain cities. Someone (probably not Mark Twain) famously said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Lost to obscurity is the first person to have remarked, “New York never sleeps.” Likewise unknown to history is whomever first observed, “No one in L.A. rides the bus.” Angelenos’ collective love/hate relationship with their cars, their obsessive quest for the quickest routes and best shortcuts, is as integral to the city’s identity as palm trees, side hustles, and the Lakers (RIP Mamba). It’s no surprise, then, that in the decade since the country emerged from the great recession Angelos have reverted more furiously than ever to their car buying and driving ways. As a result mass transit usage has plummeted to historic lows.

What’s playing out on L.A.’s streets, roads, and highways is the opposite of what decades’ worth of public planning anticipated. Starting in the 1970s politicians and bureaucrats began to focus more on modes of transportation other than the automobile. During his 1973 run for mayor, then councilman Tom Bradley made transit a city priority for the first time in over half a century. He promised, ambitiously, to break ground on a new rail line within 18 months of his inauguration. He consciously invoked the first half of the twentieth century, when Los Angeles had the largest light rail network in the world. And in 1973 the idea made eminent sense, as cars of the era were lead and smog spewing behemoths that bear as much resemblance to today’s efficient vehicles as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy resembles Sputnik.

Mayor Bradley’s initiative proved prescient, but for all the wrong reasons. It didn’t take 18 months but instead nearly 30 years for his promise to be fulfilled by the Red Line subway. The city’s experience with the project presaged things to come: It took twelve years just to break ground and another fifteen years to complete. It was more than a billion dollars over budget, and construction was plagued by route changes and accidents including a methane explosion, a massive sinkhole, and the deaths of three construction workers. As the New York Times observed at the time, “L.A.’s first subway will almost certainly be its last.” Indeed, it proved such a fiasco that officials scrapped plans for a citywide subway network modeled after New York’s. Nevertheless, by the 1990s the city’s political class was committed to the expansion of mass transit, as well as bicycling and walking (scooters and ride sharing were not yet gleams in Silicon Valley bros’ eyes). Angelenos today are living with the consequences of those decisions.

The planners have been wrong on virtually every front. Their imagined millions of transit riders instead have overwhelmingly chosen private vehicles. Thanks to increased supply, the availability of credit, and the rise of companies like Carmax, virtually anyone can afford a car. In 2015 the state also started issuing drivers licenses to some one million illegal immigrants (studies suggest many of those people already were driving). As housing became increasingly unaffordable, many Angelenos moved away from urban centers to suburbs and exurbs, increasing their reliance on cars. As a result of these and other factors millions of motorists remain behind the wheel, perhaps observing occasionally and with curiosity as a nearly empty billion dollar train whizzes overhead, on its way to nowhere useful.

Rather than adapt to reality, in a very real sense officials are seeking to punish Angelenos for their failure to embrace the mass transit Utopia. Every policy is predicated on the quest to increase congestion and slow traffic to the point that driving becomes so miserable and time-consuming that transit actually seems like a reasonable alternative. Politicians and bureaucrats use an entire lexicon of euphemisms – road diets, complete streets, livable streets, great streets, multimodal transportation, micromobility – to obscure this central fact. As accidents increase they declare streets safer. As businesses fail they claim economic booms. They seem to be following Vladimir Lenin’s edict that a lie told often enough becomes truth.

L.A.’s transit is bad and getting worse

None of the proffered transit alternatives are nearly as efficient as an individual automobile. The biggest failings are routes, travel time, and safety. In terms of routes, it was always fanciful to believe L.A. could recreate the Red Car system, which has reached positively mythical status among city planners. When the original system (really a network of interconnected operations) was being built much of L.A. was open space. In 1910 it was relatively easy to extend a line from Hollywood to the Pacific Ocean. Beverly Hills didn’t even exist. Zoning laws were rudimentary and routinely flouted, and there were no environmental laws. Today, of course, construction of even a single new station requires negotiations with property owners, years of environmental review, zoning changes, contracts and subcontracts, and the inevitable litigation.

As a consequence L.A.’s light rail and subway lines go where they can, not where they’re most needed. Consider the much-ballyhooed Expo Line that connects downtown L.A. with Santa Monica. It roughly follows the old Santa Monica Air Line route that was discontinued in the 1950s. Unfortunately that route bypasses the corridors where transit, especially light rail, makes the most sense. Particularly west of Culver City, none of the stations are located in high density commercial, business, or residential areas. Many of the stops, including Bundy, Sepulveda, Rancho Park, and Palms are relatively isolated from surrounding areas. The closest businesses to the Sepulveda station are Anawalt Lumber and a furniture store. The construction of a new 595 unit apartment complex doesn’t change the equation, as that development specifically targets Google and other tech workers at the newly converted Westside Pavillion mall. A mass transit solution it is not.

This light rail is bound for nowhere.

Buses should be a logical solution in L.A. but they are notoriously slow and unreliable. According to L.A. Metro’s new “NextGen” initiative, one of the agency’s primary goals is to “assure service is no more than 2.5x slower than driving.” Only in the world of government bureaucracies does being two and a half times slower than the alternative count as success. Consider what that would mean for the average Angeleno: If a person’s commute is 45 minutes each way they’ll spend an hour and a half in traffic every day. Bad enough, but that’s nothing compared to the 3.75 hours required on transit – in a best case scenario. Assuming that person works 48 weeks a year they’ll spend more than a month sitting on the bus. Thirty-seven and a half days a year, much of it in close proximity to drunks, addicts, lunatics, and vagrants. Add in the inevitable delays, inefficiencies, and other disruptions and the hours get even worse.

How do you want to spend your time?

Lastly, the city’s spiraling homeless and crime rates make transit use dangerous, or at least create the perception of danger. According to a 2019 report in the Los Angeles Times, one in five Metro riders have reported being harassed on trains. Many more incidents go unreported. A 2016 survey found that 29% of riders had stopped using the system altogether due to safety concerns.

Many stations are poorly lit at night. Women in particular report feeling unsafe (though women comprise the majority of transit riders in L.A. it wasn’t until last year that Metro bothered to study their safety concerns).

Nevertheless, the city is doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down

Metro, the city’s Department of Transportation, Department of Public Works, and other departments are forever devising new ways to prioritize trains and buses over even the heaviest vehicular traffic. The city recently reconfigured the signals at dozens of intersections to give priority to the Expo Line light rail. It’s commonplace to see scores of cars and buses stopped for several minutes as a nearly empty train approaches and crosses. Elsewhere, such as on Lincoln Boulevard between El Segundo and Santa Monica, Public Works has timed stoplights to create maximum congestion at peak hours. The intersection of Lincoln and Washington, one of the busiest on the Westside, alternates two minute red lights on Lincoln versus just thirty second green lights. The result is gridlock in which it takes as much as fifteen minutes to cover even a couple of blocks. It’s congestion by design.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to historic congestion L.A.’s air quality at times has plummeted. Vehicles stopping, starting, and idling produce far greater emissions. So much for sustainability.

In short, L.A.’s current transportation policies, particularly the prioritization of transit, leaves everyone worse off. Even the most reliably pro-transit sources, including the Los Angeles Times and a network of blogs including Curbed, Streetsblog, LAist, and others have been forced to acknowledge the failure of transit in Los Angeles.

Immigrants and the working poor hurt worst

The city’s incoherent, ideologically motivated transportation system does the most harm to cohorts the city’s allegedly progressive leadership claims to care about most – low-income people, immigrants, the disabled and the elderly.

Immigrants have led L.A.’s ten-year car buying spree. According to a January 2018 report from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies commissioned by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), between 2000 and 2018 vehicle ownership by both documented and undocumented immigrants grew at a faster pace than any other groups. Low income households also acquired private cars at a disproportionate rate compared to the population as a whole.

Critically, the authors of the report, entitled “Falling Transit Ridership: California and Southern California,” concluded “With very few exceptions, acquiring an automobile in Southern California makes life easier along multiple dimensions, dramatically increasing access to jobs, educational institutions and other opportunities.”(Kawabata & Shen, 2006) As a result, pulling low-income former riders out of their cars and back onto trains and buses could make transit agencies healthier but the region poorer.” (emphasis added)

The UCLA/SCAG report makes clear that access to a private vehicle opens up opportunities that are not available to transit users. Again, this is particularly true of lower income people who don’t have the luxury of doubling or tripling their commute times. The Mexican immigrant landscaper cannot haul hundreds of pounds of equipment on the bus. The domestic worker cannot haul supplies on a train. At the same time, the increased traffic and congestion steal precious hours from those who are paid that way.

In contrast, a car is a second office for many white collar professionals. Unlike the landscaper or domestic worker, a lawyer can bill hundreds, even thousands of dollars an hour talking on the phone. The same is true of many other service and creative professions. Indeed, for many people “car time” is quite valuable, an opportunity to make calls or brainstorm ideas without interruption from colleagues or family. Again, the same cannot be said of the immigrant worker idling in the next lane.

Alas, Metro itself has yet to face any of these realities, nor has L.A.’s political class. They’re doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down on transit. Their plans run from the mundane, like bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes, to the positively fantastical, such as a proposed monorail connecting the San Fernando Valley and LAX. The latter would cost an estimated $13 billion (count on that doubling or tripling if and when the project ever gets built; see also, California High Speed Rail). That would be on top of Metro’s already eyewatering $7.2 billion annual budget.

Truth is as strange as fiction: L.A. officialdom is seriously considering a monorail connecting the valley, the Westside, and LAX.

Angelenos are spending more time in traffic, burning more gasoline, and enriching foreign regimes

Global security comes into the frame. During the transition to new sources of energy and fuel petroleum will remain the economic backbone of the city, state, and country. Unfortunately California’s political class have adopted the policy known as “keep it in the ground.” Despite sitting on the fifth largest petroleum reserves and the third largest refining capacity in the country, not to mention potentially vast untapped supplies in the Outer Continental Shelf, California imports some 60% of its oil from overseas. A third of those imports come from Saudi Arabia, with supply also coming from other bastions of progressive human rights and environmentalism like Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, and Angola. Nearly half of this foreign crude transitions through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most geopolitically volatile places on Earth. Indeed, even as the rest of the country shifts toward domestic petroleum, California’s imports have increased dramatically.

The consequences are evident: As the country moves ever closer to true energy independence, California remains at the mercy of foreign disruptions. The Iranian attacks on Saudi oil fields last September led many analysts to warn of a price spike. Thanks to domestic supplies, those fears proved unfounded – except in California. Prices here surged.

Even if the much-ballyhooed Green New Deal were plausible (it isn’t) it would be decades off, meaning that millions of people will continue to put gasoline and diesel into their cars and trucks idling on congested roads. Los Angeles, and California in general, could reduce our dependence on foreign oil by reducing fuel consumption in the sort term. The only way to accomplish this goal is to relieve congestion. Instead, the political class is making it worse. As a result billions more dollars will flow from Califorians’ pocketbooks to some of the worst regimes in the world. Mohammad bin Salman and Vladimir Putin no doubt are delighted with California.

With planning and systems based on outcomes and demand, Los Angeles could have a truly world class transit system. As long as those plans and systems remain in thrall to anti-car ideology, the system will continue to underperform, costing untold billions while increasing emissions, reducing economic opportunities, and costing billions of hours of wasted time. This is no way to run a mass transit system.

UPDATED: Police shoot man near homeless encampment on Venice Boulevard (Caution: graphic image)

LOS ANGELES (January 11, 2020) An alleged gunman lays on the sidewalk on Venice Boulevard near the 405 freeway overpass. Photograph courtesy Shawn Yvanez.

According to police and eyewitnesses, an armed man was reported on Venice Boulevard near a homeless encampment under the 405 freeway. He was quickly taken down by LAPD officers. Subsequent updates confirmed that the allegedly armed suspect was wounded at least once and transported to a nearby hospital. According to the department’s initial statement the incident occurred at approximately 12:40pm.

UPDATE (5:30pm) According to a post on the citizen app the suspect was pronounced dead at the hospital at or around 1:44pm. Local media have confirmed that report.

In an initial statement LAPD spokesman Sergeant Frank Preciado told reporters that, “At approximately 12:40pm we received a radio call of a 415, individual with a gun. The first responding vehicle here was actually the supervisor. He encountered the suspect and an officer involved shooting occurred.”

It remains unclear whether the man was armed at the time of the shooting. In a follow-up statement Sergeant Preciado said that the LAPD’s Force Investigation Unit was on the scene.

Resident Nick Diaz was across the street in his truck when he heard “six or seven shots.” Mr. Diaz, a Vietnam veteran, said they sounded like pistol shots. An Orange Line Metro bus was stopped near the scene, and Mr. Diaz said he saw two women fall off the bus to the ground. “I thought they got shot, but then they got back up and I was relieved to see that they were fine,” he said.

Within minutes LAPD vehicles swarmed the area. Mr. Diaz described a “swarm of police” with shotguns and pistols drawn. He said, “I think they were here already. I think maybe something already was going down.” By approximately 1:00pm officers had established a wide cordon, shutting down Venice Boulevard between Sepulveda and Sawtelle Boulevards.

The LAPD vehicle allegedly involved. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

Shawn Yvanez, a technician at Z Expert Automotive across the street from the scene, captured pictures and video apparently showing a body laying on the sidewalk in front of the Shell station. A woman who had been buying food at a nearby food truck said the individual had been running toward the homeless camp when the police arrived. Several people speculated that the incident began as an attempted robbery at the Shell station.

The LAPD tweeted that the man’s condition was unknown. However, Mr. Yvanez said that he overheard an officer’s radio that the individual had died.

While it was not immediately clear whether the individual had any connection to the homeless encampment under the 405 overpass, that camp has been the scene of ongoing criminal activity including at least two previous shootings in February and June 2019. George Frem owns Exclusive Motors on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Globe Street. His security cameras have caught a shooting, as well as myriad drug deals, prostitution, and assaults. Last week his cameras captured residents of the camp throwing explosive devices into the street at passing cars.

LAPD subsequently tweeted that the area will be closed for up to 14 hours while the investigation continues.

More details as they emerge.

Videos and pictures show how dangerous and deadly many “road diets” are

The “road diet” on Foothill Boulevard in Sunland-Tujunga, CA severely exacerbated gridlock as people fled the 2017 La Tuna fire.

One of the central arguments officials and advocates proffer in favor of “road diets” and other traffic calming measures is that they improve safety. Unfortunately, in too many places nationwide the reality is the opposite of the rhetoric. Over the past year people around the country have documented the impacts of these projects in their communities, particularly when it comes to emergency response times. Many have shared images and videos with the all aspect report.

Traffic calming measures often increase rather than decrease accidents, injuries, and fatalities. For example, after three years of road diets and other projects under Vision Zero in Los Angeles, pedestrian fatalities have almost doubled.

The trend in L.A. isn’t good.

As we’ve noted previously, in November 2018 “road diets” in Paradise, CA contributed to gridlock during evacuations from the Camp Fire, the largest in California history. Demonstrating just how far the anti-car ideology has gone in the Golden State, the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) brazenly ignored a 2008 Butte County Grand Jury report recommending that roads in Paradise be widened and otherwise improved for evacuations during wildfires. The pictures speak for themselves (notations ours):

Tragically, the steps BCAG took to reduce road capacity contributed to mass gridlock as people fled the Camp Fire in November, 2018. That conflagration was the biggest in California history, destroying some 15,000 structures and leaving at least 88 people dead. Numerous interviews with survivors in the immediate aftermath (we joined the first evacuees to be allowed back into the fire zone on November 22) confirm that the narrowed roads made it harder for people to flee. As one resident put it, “Even before the fire we wondered what the hell they were thinking.”

The main picture above was taken during the fire, and it shows cars struggling to pull right as fire engines race toward the flames. There can be no more definitive evidence that traffic calming, when done without due regard for public safety, not only impedes evacuations but also the ability of first responders to reach the scene. It’s a lose-lose.

Frighteningly, counties throughout California are reducing lane capacity by installing traffic calming devices and “road diets” in fire evacuation zones. For example, the Shasta Living Streets initiative calls for lane reductions on roads that served as major evacuation routes during the 2017 Carr Fire. Sonoma County is narrowing roads used during the 2018 Tubbs Fire. Oakland has installed numerous road diets on streets that are actually officially designated emergency routes, many of which served as critical lifelines during the deadly 1991 firestorms. Captain Henry Holt of the Oakland Fire Department says, “I found out about a road diet in front of my station when I arrived for a shift one morning.”

On a more quotidian but no less distressing note, residents in Mar Vista, CA and Queens, NY have captured dozens of pictures and images of fire engines, ambulances, and police cars slowed by road diets on Venice Boulevard and Skillman Avenue, respectively. Both projects have been the focus of intense community opposition. Again, the videos speak for themselves.

Off the record we have spoken to dozens of first responders nationwide. Almost without exception they express frustration and disgust with these politically motivated projects. Example after example, study after study after study confirms that traffic calming devices increase emergency response times with deadly results.

When will officials and advocates wake up and realize they’re threatening lives every day?

A fire engine and ambulance stuck on the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
A police car slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA (note the bicyclist on the sidewalk)
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine crashes into parked cars on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A police car slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
An ambulance stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
A fire truck and ambulance slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
An ambulance stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine and ladder stuck on the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA