- Reporters Desk
Garcetti, the Navy and Homeless People
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
The Monday before Thanksgiving was one of those bright and beautiful Southern California days—clear and not too hot. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti came to the bow of the USS. Iowa to announce that the Navy had agreed to make the Port of Los Angeles one of its West Coast stops for Fleet Week 2016. Scheduled during the week of Labor Day, the tour is expected to draw large crowds to this often forgotten waterfront.
Along with some 5,000-some-odd sailors in Navy whites walking the streets, some speculate that the families of those sailors could bring15,000 or more through LAX and stay in area hotels. This, of course, is a major boon for tourism in the City of Angels, where in 2014 the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board recorded 44.2 million visitors—two million more than in 2013. Some travel and tourist reports rank Los Angeles as the No. 1 destination, surpassing New York after some 570,000 Chinese visited this city recently. All of this bodes well for those with visions of making the Los Angeles waterfront a world-class attraction.
Tourism isn’t the only area where Los Angeles ranks first. Less than a half mile from this press conference, overlooking this great industrial port that generates $290 billion in revenue per year, is an entrenched homeless encampment in the shadow of the U.S. Post Office—a symbol of the fact that our city also ranks first in the number of residents without shelter every night.
A few months ago, the mayor called homelessness in Los Angeles to be officially designated a “state of emergency.” The Los Angeles City Council even voted on Nov. 17 to give him the tools to act on the crisis. But he hesitated, choosing instead to wait for the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to the hypothetical question, “If I declare a state of emergency, will the feds step in and support it?”
One might posit that there is a linkage between creating a world-class tourist destination and eliminating the homeless problem. Many cities just hide the problem or ship homeless people out of town during major tourist events. Long Beach has often been accused of sending their homeless over the bridges to San Pedro ahead of the Grand Prix and other major events, just to keep up appearances. But appearances can be deceiving and in this case they don’t solve the problem. So what’s a city to do?
There are a few actions Los Angeles could take while waiting for FEMA’s response. First, a portion of the bed tax on hotels should be transferred to the homeless housing fund starting Jan. 1, 2016. If tourism dollars are up, the hotel bed tax would be an appropriate source of revenue to start giving the appearance that the city actually cares.
Second, there should be a similar bed tax for Airbnb vacation rental units—the company and business model that is currently being debated by the Los Angeles City Council. The proceeds of this tax should go to the homeless fund because this unregulated business model is actually taking rental units off the local market and directly or indirectly affecting the affordable rental market in Los Angeles. There is cause and effect here that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Third, there needs to be a gentrification fee attached to any building permit that converts low-income rental property into market rate hipster digs or reinstate the provision that 15 percent of all new developments should be low income “affordable housing” units.
And last but not least, the city council needs to define what exactly “affordable housing” really means in a city where $30,000 a year barely places a family of four above the poverty line. These are actions the city council can do while the mayor is waiting on an answer from Washington, D.C.
In the end, Angelenos should be as offended by the gulf between the chronically impoverished and the top 1 percent in our city as they are about problems connected to homelessness on our streets and parks.
While money alone will not solve the problem of sheltering the most vulnerable among us, it is a key ingredient. The three suggestions noted above could become a revenue stream to start what will take years to resolve.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this editorial or the pages of this newspaper should be taken as the official position of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood council, to which I was elected president in 2014, nor does it reflect the opinions of any of its board members. The opinions expressed here are my own.