July 23, 2015


By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou 

City News Service 



A lively protest by advocates for homeless and low- income people disrupted a posh groundbreaking ceremony for a $500 million luxury apartment project in downtown Los Angeles this week, nearly drowning out Mayor Eric Garcetti as he attempted to give a speech. Garcetti joined developers to mark the start of major construction for the 1.6 million-square-foot Circa mixed-use development, which will include retail space and 648 luxury rental units across from L.A. Live and Staples Center. Garcetti was also there to announce that the project will contribute to his goal of building 100,000 new units by 2017.


He said the goal addresses a housing shortage “crisis” that has been driving up real estate prices in the city. As of this week, the city is more than a quarter of the way to that goal, with permits issued to build more than 25,000 housing units in Los Angeles, the mayor said. Protesters from the Los Angeles Community Action Net­work, however, questioned whether the mayor’s efforts are driving lower-income people and the homeless from the downtown area.


More than a dozen protesters — yelling loudly as the mayor spoke — chanted “housing for the homeless!” and “house keys, not handcuffs!” They called on the mayor to visit Skid Row to meet with advocates to discuss what they contend has been increased enforcement of laws that could potentially force the homeless out of downtown Los Angeles. The protesters, who also chanted “We voted for you!,” said Garcetti courted the votes of Skid Row advocates, the homeless and low-income residents during his mayoral campaign, but he has not gone back to Skid Row since.


General Dogon, an LACAN member who spoke with City News Service just before the groundbreaking event, said enforcement of existing ordinances targeting homeless people’s ability to stay on the sidewalks, erect encampments and keep their belongings have been stepped up in recent days. Dogon said he witnessed arrests and large groups of police officers telling the homeless to remove their belongings, and in one instance he said he saw clean-up crews rounding up shopping carts and crushing them on the streets in front of some homeless denizens. About a half-dozen officers at one time would “walk up to guys and they surround them and they tell them that they’re are blocking the sidewalk, they’ve got to move,” Dogon said.


“They run their names for a warrant check right there, they got warrants they arrest them.


“It’s nothing about them warning them and going out to really educate and talk to people, it’s about the criminalization, because that’s what they’re doing,” Dogon said.


Garcetti attempted to quell the protesters during his speech, saying that “we need housing at all levels. I agree with my friends over here, that we need to continue to build — for the most low-income and homeless individuals — housing.”


Garcetti added that he has budgeted $10 million this year to build affordable housing, and the more than 25,000 units “in the pipeline,” including the units in the Circa project, will “alleviate for all of us the housing crisis” and help bring about “the revitalization of neighborhoods we so badly need.”


“I think that’s something worth celebrating as well,” Garcetti said.


Despite Garcetti's words, protesters continued to disrupt the speech until the mayor was forced to stop and address them directly.


“Now listen for a second, I’m happy to address you. I don't want you to think I’m not, but you have to be able to listen, so with all due respect I’ll just give my speech and continue on ... alright ...,” he told them.


Garcetti spoke briefly with the protesters afterwards, and told them he would “check out” a letter they handed to him. Just before getting in his car to go to his next event — a news conference with Vice President Joe Biden in North Hollywood on raising the minimum wage — Garcetti said, “I have been in Skid Row a lot in the last few years, just so you know, so, I’ll continue,” adding that “I promise to read the letter.”


The letter, which protesters showed City News Service, called on Garcetti “to act boldly to stop the criminalization of homelessness in Los Angeles.”


The letter also said that while Garcetti has promised not to enforce recently adopted ordinances that give the city more power to dismantle homeless encampments and issue criminal citations, “we have witnessed the seizure and destruction of more property in Skid Row in the past week than even before the Lavan injunction was put in place.”


The injunction was the result of a lawsuit challenging the city’s ability to remove and discard items in sidewalks and other public areas, including items put there by the homeless.


“Since we have not been able to dialogue with you within the Skid Row community since your election, which you promised during our town hall breakfast during the campaign, we are requesting a meeting at your earliest convenience to respond to the community’s concerns,” the letter said.

Category: News