“Busing people to the Antelope Valley or erecting a mythical tent city near LAX won’t do it,” they wrote.
The latter was a reference to my suggestion, a pretty disparaging one. On Nov. 10 in the LA Times Sunday Op-Ed page, I wrote that LA owns some 300 acres of vacant land north of LAX, at least 100 of which could be used immediately to erect temporary emergency homeless housing and services. The idea could shelter thousands of homeless at once. Is it mythical? Well, tent shelters are being used in San Diego, Hawaii and elsewhere to house hundreds of homeless. In Washington, Oregon, Texas, and around the world, officials have already created non-mythical homeless cities (more like villages) that house hundreds of people, quickly. Some use the kinds of structural white tents I referred to (Google “Sprung Tent“) and some use even more innovative tiny houses, that can be built by volunteers for between $2400-$7000 each (Google “palletshelter“). Many newspapers have written about these villages. The Sacramento Bee just reported on Renewal Village, a 700-person homeless village of tiny homes, RVs and tents being planned on the site of an old elementary school. Is it mythical to suggest that LA City and County, two far larger entities, could create 10 or more Renewal Villages this year? If we want it, we can do it.
Maybe by “mythical” the Times editorial writers meant that such a village could never happen near LAX. I know this was the response many readers received from City Councilman Mike Bonin, who also kindly reached out to me. The official city line is that the FAA rules under which LA acquired the land prohibit its residential use. If the city used it for residential development, it would have to pay fair market value for the acreage. I knew this from conducting background interviews for the column with city and county experts, which is why I wrote a Federal waiver would be necessary. A couple points to elaborate:
One, considering this is an emergency beyond the scope of current solutions, the city should press the FAA to *temporarily* waive that restriction for three-five years until the homeless can be transitioned to more permanent housing. President Trump has said he is eager to step in and help solve a problem our own officials have not been able to– getting the FAA to waive that rule would be a huge start. Seattle and Portland rewrote their zoning laws to allow for homeless villages. In a crisis, rules can be waived and laws rewritten.
Two– so don’t use LAX. In the column I made it clear there were other options as well. The city, county and public agencies own huge swaths of land around the region. Use multiple locations. There are large parts of Griffith Park unused by the public. There are areas downtown. City Controller Ron Galperin has the list. We are living in an upside down world where a safe, large-scale homeless village with all the necessary services is “mythical,” but homeless people strewn along our sidewalks is realistic. (By the way, The Guardian newspaper conducted a study of these homeless villages in the Pacific Northwest and found they did not lead to an increase in crime in the village or in surrounding neighborhoods).
Now, a sidebar. I appreciate and love working with the LA Times folks. The pieces I’ve written for them since leaving the Jewish Journal have received a wide readership and far-reaching responses. Very few columns I’ve written had the kind of reaction this last one did. That wouldn’t have happened if editor Sue Horton wasn’t willing to accept an admittedly new and controversial idea. And as for research, I relied heavily not just on interviews, but on the Times own reporting, including Steve Lopez’s numerous heavily-reported columns on homelessness.
So all that just made it more surprising that the editorial so blithely dismissed my call for a bold, big, scaled-up homeless solution. At a time when we all realize the current approach is broken, every thoughtful idea needs to be considered and critiqued, not mocked. The only thing mythical is the idea that we can fix homelessness with more trashcans, toilets or old ideas.