County dismisses Project Roomkey suit against two cities

LOS ANLEGES — Los Angeles County has dismissed a lawsuit against the cities of Lynwood and Bell Gardens that blocked the cities from prohibiting the use of their hotels in a statewide program to shelter the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dismissal came after Lynwood rescinded its moratorium against leasing its vacant hotel rooms for Project Roomkey, and after Bell Gardens allowed its moratorium to lapse, according to a press release from the L.A. County Office of Emergency Management. The lawsuit is still in place for the city of Norwalk, whose moratorium remains in effect.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Project Roomkey on April 3 to protect unhoused people from COVID-19 and curb the spread of the virus. The county is temporarily housing 3,700 individuals out of 15,000 identified for the program.

Newsom extended Project Roomkey June 30, adding  $1.3 billion in state funding and renaming the program Project Homekey.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order on April 28 against the city of Norwalk, after its City Council approved a temporary moratorium to prevent the operation of Project Roomkey without city approval.

“Hotels were not developed to provide the type of housing that’s being suggested,” said Norwalk City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman at an April 21 City Council meeting. “[The moratorium] does allow protection for the residents of the City of Norwalk. Their rights shouldn’t be trampled upon.”

Bell Gardens and Lynwood were added to the lawsuit after passing similar ordinances.

Newsom filed a brief in support of the county’s lawsuit, saying that pushback from cities would slow Project Roomkey’s implementation.

“Without Project Roomkey, state and local officials will lose an important tool to combat the virus, and more Californians will suffer and die,” Newsom wrote.

Lynwood City Manager Jose Ometeotl said that city officials there support Project Roomkey, but wanted to make sure that unhoused people within city limits get priority.

“We essentially just wanted a seat at the table,” Ometeotl said. “It was never our intention to be an obstacle to housing the homeless during the pandemic.”

Norwalk and Bell Gardens officials did not respond to requests for comment.

By Jose Ivan Cazares

Contributing Writer