Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — In her first official act as mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness Dec. 12 in an effort to underscore the severity of the housing crisis in the nation’s second largest city.
Bass signed the declaration inside the city’s Emergency Operations Center in a room designated as the United Homelessness Response Center. She described the declaration as a method to unlock tools and powers to “make sure we are using every resource possible” to address homelessness, claiming that it marked a “sea change” and “monumental shift” in the city’s approach.
“Using the emergency order is our ability to fast-track things,” Bass said. “My mandate is to move Los Angeles in a new direction with an urgent and strategic approach to solving one of our city’s toughest challenges and creating a brighter future for every Angeleno.”
Bass, who spent her first morning as mayor meeting with the city’s various department heads to brief them on the declaration, pointed to how fast Los Angeles rebuilt its freeways after the magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994.
“It’s because those projects were not run through the traditional process,” Bass said. “They were run through an emergency structure like the one we are harnessing today. We must drive a proactive citywide strategy that solves problems at scale and ultimately drives a solution.”
The declaration — which is scheduled to last six months — allows Bass to take more aggressive executive actions to confront the crisis, though the City Council will have to sign off on it every 30 days.
“The setting of a specific time frame allows for actions to be taken to make permanent, necessary structural changes,” the declaration reads.
Whether to continue the state of emergency will be evaluated by several indicators of progress, including the number of encampments and housing placements, and how much more flexibility city departments are allowed through the declaration.
City Council President Paul Krekorian signaled that he will work with Bass, saying in remarks at the mayor’s inauguration Dec. 11 that Bass will have a “very strong partner in the Los Angeles City Council.”
The City Council voted to ratify the state of emergency on homelessness Dec. 12. The council voted 13-0, with Councilman Kevin de León casting a vote even though he was not in the chamber.
“The city is known throughout the world for its emergency response,” Krekorian said. “Starting today, under Mayor Bass, we are going to bring that same vigor, that same sense of urgency, that same gathering of resources to respond to this emergency as well — the humanitarian emergency that 40,000 people are suffering from tonight.”
The last time a mayor declared a local emergency related to homelessness was in 1987, when Mayor Tom Bradley cited the effect of winter weather on people experiencing homelessness, according to the declaration. The conditions now, the declaration claimed, are “even more dire.”
There are an estimated 41,980 unhoused people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7% from 2020, according to the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Bass said she plans to announce a program to address homelessness called Inside Safe in the coming days. The plan, which Bass said will cost under $100 million, will be to use master leasing with motels to place unhoused people. She said her office has been in touch with motel owners near encampments.
Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said she plans to introduce a motion to make sure county resources can “match the urgency of this emergency declaration.”
“We need to link arms rather than point fingers,” Hahn said, adding that Bass was “bringing a new vigor to a battle that we have been fighting way too long.”
Several other city officials were present at Bass’ first news conference as mayor, including City Council President Pro Tem Curren Price and Councilwoman Nithya Raman, interim chair of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee. City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto and City Controller Kenneth Mejia, both newly elected, also stood behind Bass.
Feldstein Soto said at a briefing earlier Dec. 12 that Bass called her early in the morning to inform her that she would be declaring the state of emergency. The City Charter requires the mayor to consult with the city attorney before making an emergency declaration.
“Let me assure you the mayor has consulted with me and we are hand-in-glove in this,” Feldstein Soto said.
The city attorney added that Bass has “reached out across the board and we are all committed to doing what it takes to make this work.”