Photos and Article by Kevin Walker, Neon Tommy, Annenberg Digital News
Community activists from San Pedro left City Hall satisfied on Nov. 17, after the City Council approved new measures to deal with the Los Angeles’ 26,000 homeless people.
The activists are members of the group Saving San Pedro, which was formed on Facebook earlier this year in response to the neighborhood’s increasingly visible homeless population.
They made the trek from the Waterfront to the Downtown Civic Center to support 15th District Councilman Joe Buscaino, a San Pedro native who now represents the Harbor Area, Watts and Harbor Gateway.
The amendment, which was passed by a 14-0 vote, will add language to municipal code 56.11, giving the Los Angeles Police Department explicit authority to confiscate tents and shelters erected in public spaces between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. if the owner refuses to remove them. The city council also passed three other motions to provide emergency shelter and off street parking for the growing homeless population.
“It’s going to uncuff the police and allow them to do the job we want them to do,” said George Palaziol after the meeting.
Palaziol, a founding member of the social media group Saving San Pedro, maintained that while homelessness is not a crime, it is not a legal protection either.
“Drinking in public is not a homeless problem, doing drugs in public is not a homeless problem,” he said. “That’s just behavior from someone who doesn’t care about their community.”
Some people, like Eric Ares of the Los Angeles Community Action Network disagree. He sees Buscaino’s approach as too reliant on the LAPD and said it does nothing to address the underlying reasons for the city’s homelessness crisis.
“You need services,” he said. “Outreach, drug rehab, things like that. Not just officers to arrest people and push people out of the community.”
Ares said that the amendment will have the practical effect of leaving the city’s most vulnerable out in the rain during an El Niño year.
His group, Los Angeles Community Action Network, is based on skid row, the traditional homeland for Los Angeles’ homeless. He believes that people in outlying neighborhoods like San Pedro are having a hard time adjusting to the citywide reality of a growing homelessness population in Los Angeles.
“They’re not saying ‘end homelessness,’” said Ares. “They’re saying ‘get these people out of San Pedro.’”
San Pedro’s homeless population stands at less than 400, less than 1 percent of Los Angeles’ total. Yet, the issue looms large in the portside community.
At a recent neighborhood council meeting, the president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, James Preston Allen, was suspended after Thomas Soong of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment issued a last minute notice of non- compliance for having not finished required ethics training. This action is rarely if ever taken by DONE and was ordered by Grayce Liu the director after having communication with Dennis Gleason, Councilman Buscaino’s director of policy.
Allen, who returned to the meeting after completing the online course, says he was not aware of DONE ever excluding a council member because of an incomplete ethics training. And that the bylaws are particularly vague in regard to the grace period allowed for members who were just renewing their ethics training.
“Everybody was basically ambushed by this thing,” he said after the meeting. “My mistake was not slowing the meeting down and going ‘let’s take a look at this.’” He continued, “the CSPNC bylaws can be read in two ways and we obviously have a disagreement with DONE on their interpretation”.
He has become public enemy No. 1 to Saving San Pedro for his positions on defending the rights of the homelessness and is regularly slammed on their Facebook page with calls for his resignation from the neighborhood council.
During the meeting, Joanne Rallo, another founding member of the Saving San Pedro, read a message to the remaining council members.
“For those board members who continue to support James not only will you make the entire board look bad,” she said, “those members will be putting a target on their own backs that will make the remaining time on this board an unpleasant one.”
Allen later described Rallo’s comments a threat directed at the board.
“Her comments only made it more clear that the Saving San Pedro group had made this a personal attack that was not supported by the community at large or the majority of the CSPNC board,” Allen said.
This past summer, Allen and the neighborhood council came out in favor of the “tiny houses,” small shelters that were given out by local homeless advocates to four homeless individuals living in San Pedro. Saving San Pedro members took the decision as a sign that Allen, who didn’t vote as the chairman of the meeting, and that the majority of the members of the council didn’t have the neighborhood’s best interest at heart. The vote was unanimous.
The arrival of the houses on city streets provoked a backlash on social media from residents worried they would create a skid row-like situation, with entrenched encampments dominating sidewalks and parks. Although they were eventually removed, the controversy has lingered and has only been aggravated by the lack of solutions coming from the City Council office.
Nora Hilda, founder of the group Helping the Homeless in Need San Pedro, was also at the meeting and who has supported Allen. Her group spearheaded the Tiny House initiative and still regularly gives out food and basic toiletries to the neighborhood’s homeless.
“I don’t know how the hell you guys can sit here in the meeting and think that it’s OK for human beings to sleep on the ground,” she said.
Hilda believes that the construction of a long-term shelter in San Pedro would solve the neighborhood’s homeless problem.
Ares with LACAN doesn’t think that scenario is very likely.
“It’s a ‘not in my backyard problem,’” he said. “Everyone wants it, but they don’t want it in their homes.”