1. Homelessness and Affordable Housing
In Southern California, homelessness and affordable housing are regional problems, but the Southern California region treats them like Los Angeles problems. Even with all of the work that has been done and the progress that has been made, record numbers of unhoused people are dying every day on Los Angeles streets. Dangerous unhealthy conditions exist all over the city. So something significant has to change.
Los Angeles homelessness experts generally agree on four key facts: first, homelessness happens in every city in the region, and people experiencing homelessness should be able to remain in the community they came from; second, the homelessness crisis and the affordable housing crisis are interconnected; third, the solution to homelessness is affordable housing, and shelters (of varying types) with services (including addiction services, mental health services, and job placement services); and fourth, we need much more of both, in the City of Los Angeles and all around the region.
As Los Angeles City Attorney, I will change the City’s legal strategy that will put these solutions within reach.
Since 2003, the City of Los Angeles has been sued several times on issues related to homelessness. Many of those cases were settled out of court by the City. These legal actions and settlements have impacted the City’s ability to respond to homelessness. Today the Courts are deciding every aspect of the homelessness crisis – from where people can camp on the street, when they can camp on the street, how much personal property they can have with them on the street, and where shelters and affordable housing can be built.
While the City’s settlement of prior lawsuits was the best decision at the time based on the information it had, we now know that neighboring cities have not been willing to meet the same obligations the City of Los Angeles has agreed to. Therefore, the City of Los Angeles should now approach these legal cases, and our neighboring cities, differently.
As City Attorney, here’s one of the ways I would do it. First, if the City of Los Angeles is the only municipal defendant in any homelessness-related lawsuit, then the case will be vigorously defended and settlement out of court will not be recommended by our office. When the City of Los Angeles settles legal cases brought against it, able to bind only itself to the demands of the other side, the City of LA is removing any incentive on the part of our neighbors to build homeless shelters with services or affordable housing, while creating every incentive for the unhoused population to move into Los Angeles and for our neighboring cities to assist them in doing so (directly or indirectly). People experiencing homelessness are camped primarily on our streets, not their streets. And as long as the unhoused population is sleeping on Los Angeles streets, other cities in the region have little incentive to build shelters or affordable housing.
Therefore, if I am City Attorney, in order to consider settling a homelessness-related case brought against the City of Los Angeles, two important things will need to occur first: (1) many of our neighboring cities will need to be at the table; and (2) those neighboring cities must agree to the same things the City of Los Angeles is being asked to agree to. This is only fair.
By fighting these cases going forward instead of settling them, whether the City wins the case or is faced with a different result, we will be holding all of our neighbors in the region accountable. Because if the City wins the case, it wins it. But if the City of Los Angeles receives an alternative decision, every other city in the region will be bound by that decision rendered in the State Court.
This new approach to homelessness-related lawsuits brought against the City of Los Angeles will result in three important outcomes. First, it will give our neighbors the same incentive we have to build shelters with services and more affordable housing, thereby finally providing the solutions that everyone agrees are needed, and preventing the shuffling of the unhoused population into our City from their own communities of origin where they would prefer to stay. Second, once our neighboring cities realize the results of the litigation will impact them in the same way it impacts the City of Los Angeles, our neighboring cities will have an incentive to join the lawsuits that to date have only targeted the City of Los Angeles. And third, with more housing and shelter solutions throughout the region, all cities will be able to restore the public right-of-way to its intended and safe use.
Regarding affordable housing, some things are indisputable. There is not enough of it. We must build more of it. And all levels of government must do more with public funds and incentives to solve the affordable housing crisis through various tenant protections and easing the path to homeownership. Frankly, it is time to build public housing again. Indeed, the September 2020 report entitled “No Going Back: Policies for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles” co-authored by the USCDornsife Equity Research Institute, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Committee for Greater LA, under the sub-heading “Create housing for all and end unsheltered homelessness,” says that to solve the affordable housing crisis “A combination of measures will be needed, including new sources of funding, zoning reform and streamlining, the enablement of non-subsidized affordable housing development, and governance reform to force the fulfillment of regional housing obligations.” While our City Attorney’s Office will prioritize legal support in all of these areas, we will be particularly interested in the regional solutions advocated for in the “No Going Back” report through the strategy that I have explained here.
2. COVID Response
Serving in a senior leadership role in the Garcetti Administration and on the City’s Emergency Operations Board when the COVID pandemic struck our City, I immediately worked on numerous relief measures to: (a) protect our vulnerable unhoused population (including an immediate delivery of FEMA trailers to our Bureau of Engineering, and a Sanitation partnership with the YMCA to provide shower and hygiene services); (b) protect construction jobs by implementing measures to keep job sites safe; (c) build out the Los Angeles Convention Center as a temporary medical facility; (d) keep restaurants open by permitting outdoor dining areas; (e) provide relief to street vendors who were temporarily shut down for safety reasons; (f) assist the entertainment industry in crafting safety measures to allow certain productions to return to work; and (g) keeping core city services operating without interruption.
As City Attorney, our office will continue to prioritize response to the COVID pandemic including taking whatever legal means necessary to ensure that the City receives all COVID-related funding reimbursements to which it is entitled.
3. Racial and Gender Equity/Immigrant Affairs
I worked within the Mayor’s Office on the creation of the Civil and Human Rights and Equity Department and with the incoming General Manager of that Department. Accordingly, I will create a Civil and Human Rights and Equity Division within the City Attorney’s Office to partner with the City’s Civil and Human Rights and Equity Department, and to provide the legal counsel it will need. I also served on Mayor Garcetti’s Legislative and External Affairs Team where I worked daily with Mayor Garcetti’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and with Mayor Garcetti’s two successive directors of that Office. Therefore, there will be an Immigrant Affairs Unit within the Civil and Human Rights and Equity Division of the City Attorney’s Office to provide legal counsel needed by the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
I would continue to work with the City Council and Mayor on the pandemic-induced eviction defense programs in place as well as other protections in consideration, including rent relief for tenants and mortgage relief for small landlords and property owners.
While I was President of the Board of Public Works, we led on numerous projects, policies, and initiatives that advanced Mayor Garcetti’s priorities in racial and gender equity and immigrant affairs. For example, even though California’s Prop 209 severely limited our City’s ability to place requirements on contractors to sub-contract with Minority and Women-owned businesses, our Board prioritized goals every year intended to increase contracting opportunities for Minority and Women-owned businesses. Furthermore, our Board created the City’s first LGBTQ Business Certification Process thereby making Los Angeles the largest municipality, by both population and economy, to formally include LGBTQ-owned businesses in the City’s billions of dollars in contract procurement. I also led the Board of Public Works through the creation of the City’s Street Vending Report and worked with the Street Vendors Coalition and Inclusive Action for the City on key reforms of the City’s Street Vending Policy.
Finally, since 2009-2010, I have served as a volunteer attorney for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) assisting immigrants with the naturalization process at NALEO Citizenship Workshops around the City, and have received recognition and commendation from the California State Senate for those efforts.
4. Public Safety, Police Reform and Criminal Justice Reform
Working to bring LAPD officers closer to the communities they serve, and to promote public safety partnerships, is work I have been doing for almost a decade serving on the Board of Directors of Operation Progress LA. Operation Progress provides a source of support and an opportunity for families to interact with LAPD officers in a non-enforcement environment, building relationships and trust that enhance the police-community relationship.
As Chief of Legislative Affairs for Mayor Garcetti, I worked on two key police reform measures. The first was the creation and rollout of the new Community Safety Partnership Bureau – run by Deputy Chief Emada Tingirides. The new CSP Bureau was created to take the CSP concept around the City. The second was the Therapeutic Transportation Pilot Program (Alternative Dispatch) between the City and County, where vans staffed with unarmed mental health experts will respond to certain calls for mental health emergencies where armed police response is not needed. This will relieve police from responding to those calls where they are not required.
Public Safety, Police Reform and Criminal Justice Reform will continue in our City Attorney’s Office, with all stakeholders at the table. For example, we will propose a “Second Chance” Program for first time offenders of certain low level non-violent misdemeanor crimes (e.g., prostitution, drug possession, public drunkenness, public urination, non-threatening trespass). Under the program, for a first-time misdemeanor offense of one of the designated violations, our office will pursue a less aggressive prosecutorial procedure by issuing a citation for the first offense, rather than a misdemeanor charge. This will create a second-chance for the first-time offender, while reserving misdemeanor criminal charges for those who offend more than once.
5. Tenant Protections and Small Landlord and Property Owner Protections
In order to prevent people from falling into homelessness, and to keep residents in their homes during the pandemic, as Chief of Legislative Affairs I worked within our Administration to implement various tenant resources available to everyone who needs them. The Emergency Renters Assistance Program was created by LA City Council President Nury Martinez, supported by Mayor Garcetti, and implemented by the City’s Housing Department. The $103M program provided rent subsidies to renters impacted by COVID-19 and assisted approximately 50,000 Los Angeles households. Mayor Garcetti and City Attorney Feuer partnered on the creation of LA Represents, a pro bono initiative to provide free legal services to LA residents facing legal challenges because of the pandemic, including vulnerable tenants facing consumer debt and bankruptcy matters.
As City Attorney, LA Represents would be extended, and our office would continue to provide the legal counsel necessary to support all of the existing tenant protection policies in place as well as others contemplated by the Mayor and City Council.
On the topics of rent and mortgage relief/forgiveness, I support the City Council’s and Mayor’s ability to find a legislative path toward rent and mortgage relief/forgiveness paired together. In addition to tenants, small landlords and property owners also deserve protection as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, failure to protect small landlords and property owners would result in more renters losing their residential units if property owners lose their buildings. Obviously, the best solution is for the federal government to provide the financial backstop for this program. It is also important that such a program be protected against abuse by those not in need, and against fraud. I recognize that legal challenges and hurdles may exist here, especially if the federal government does not provide assistance. But the powers of the City during a declared emergency are broad, and the legal talent in the City Attorney’s Office and in the legal industry in Los Angeles is the best in nation. Therefore, I am confident that our Office will find the best path forward to support the legislative choices of our City Council and Mayor.
6. Environmental Advocacy and Climate Change
The Garcetti Administration has led the nation in Environmental Advocacy and Climate Change policy. Our Administration has always treated Climate Change like the crisis it is. Indeed, LA’s Green New Deal was authored by Mayor Garcetti and the Garcetti Administration. As City Attorney, we will continue to prove that cities can lead the way on climate issues — especially when the Federal Government chooses to sit on the sidelines. And I will work to confirm that high paying union jobs continue to be the foundation of our labor considerations when legal issues around energy policy reform are addressed by our office.
The environmental work of our Board of Public Works during my tenure as President established the tools the City has needed to protect our neighborhoods and communities from polluters. Under the leadership of Mayor Garcetti and the City Council, our Board built the Office of Petroleum and Natural Gas Administration and Safety. This Office works with State and Federal agencies in the regulation of drilling activities, the management of drilling leases, and the City’s franchise agreements. Also during my tenure, the Mayor and City Council selected the Board of Public Works to build the City’s first Climate Emergency Mobilization Office as part of the City’s New Green Deal. The Climate Emergency Mobilization Office will prioritize environmental justice issues throughout the City on everything from a more equitable tree canopy to protecting low income communities from serial polluters.
Under my leadership at Public Works, we have taken the Bureau of Street Services, historically a street repair department, and turned it into an award-winning environmental department through championing new technologies including leading the nation on cool pavement, materials made with recyclables including plastic water bottles, and upgrading asphalt plants. LA Sanitation which oversees the City’s Clean Water Program and Watershed Protection Program, also manages a Solid Resources Program that has achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the nation at 76.4%. LA Sanitation is a key agency in the implementation of the City’s Green New Deal. Sanitation also has the largest fleet of clean fuel vehicles in the United States. Our Bureau of Street Lighting has led the nation in Smart City environmental programs, including solar to grid installations, publicly available EV chargers, solar streetlights, and smart poles with air quality measuring devices. And our Bureau of Engineering leads with an Environmental Management Division that is responsible for environmental review of projects in line with the California Environmental Quality Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
7. Economic Opportunity and Development
Throughout the Garcetti Administration and prior to the COVID pandemic, LA was experiencing an economic boom. Tourism was at record levels (50M in a year), unemployment was at record lows, new businesses were opening all over the City, LA was recognized as a global culinary leader, and the entertainment industry was setting new records in filming. And upon the selection of Los Angeles to host the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I worked closely with the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission to guarantee LA’s place at the top of the list of the world’s best sports cities by winning bids for the NBA All-Star Game, the MLB All-Star Game, the Super Bowl, College Football National Championship Game, U.S. Open Golf Championship, and NCAA West Regional Men’s Basketball Tournament.
But once the pandemic hit, our economy stalled. Our Administration immediately stepped in with relief efforts, even with our own budget taking a severe hit and sufficient relief from the Federal Government was stalled. But that hasn’t been enough. While City Hall’s bureaucracy has long been a challenge for our local and small businesses, it simply has to get easier for them to interact and succeed with City Hall.
Perhaps no time in the City’s history will be as important for local businesses and jobs than the first 24 months after the end of the coronavirus pandemic. As City Attorney, our office will provide the legal counsel necessary for all of our City Departments to be prepared to simplify and expedite the permitting process, in all areas, as much as legally possible.
The upcoming economic resurgence in Los Angeles must also benefit all Angelenos. The pandemic shined a bright light on existing inequities throughout our City. One way our office will work to ensure that the economy provides opportunities to everyone is through a new Diversion to Jobs Pipeline that will use the City Attorney’s Office existing Diversion Unit/Program to establish partnerships with labor unions, trade schools, business and trade organizations, and government contractors so that the men and women that complete our Diversion Program, if they chose to, will graduate into a direct relationship with one of these entities to begin training for a job.
The culture of corruption in various aspects of City government must end. I talked about the culture of corruption, and shined a bright light on it, in the 2013 Mayor’s race. Some in the media, however, called me an alarmist, and essentially recommended that I drop the talk of corruption. But time did tell, and I was right. Corruption was as rampant as I said it was.
As City Attorney, our office will seek out corruption, find it, and ensure that appropriate legal action is taken, and remedies and penalties handed down. If I am elected City Attorney, those willing to victimize the LA taxpayer and destroy the public’s trust in government through corrupt and criminal acts will know that a former Assistant United States Attorney has now stepped into the City Attorney’s Office. For the bad actors willing to commit corruption, I will find them, expose them, stop them, and ensure they are prosecuted.
Corruption not only happens within City Hall, it can also occur through a city’s procurement system by outside contractors and can cost LA taxpayers millions of dollars annually. During my tenure as President of the Board of Public Works, our Board was recognized for its leadership in working to recognize and stop procurement fraud by contractors, including collusion, price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation and tampering. Our Board was featured by the Procurement Collusion Strike Force, led by United States Attorneys from around the nation (including Los Angeles), as a large city agency stepping up early and leading in efforts to stop corruption before it occurs.
As City Attorney, I will create an Anti-Corruption Task Force, led by senior leadership in the City Attorney’s Office Criminal Division, and invite representation from the City Controller’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office, and from two local University faculty/administrations.
9. Legal Settlements
Taxpayer dollars should be put back into our communities — especially disadvantaged communities — rather than being spent on top dollar legal settlements. Beyond the settlement of legal cases related to homelessness, numerous legal cases are settled every year for conditions alleged to be faulty or dangerous on our streets, automobile accidents with city vehicles, employment-related cases, and employee misconduct cases.
There are two primary ways to stop this financial drain. First, implement risk management priorities that take away the opportunity to bring such cases. The City Attorney’s Office is already experiencing important success through its existing Risk Management Task Force. I will continue that critical work. Second, to vigorously, thoroughly, and aggressively defend the LA taxpayer in these cases. I believe that many attorneys who make it a practice to sue the City have taken on the attitude that Los Angeles is an “easy-pay” settlement bank, where they can sue the City and then count on a quick and lucrative settlement. While that is not a fair assessment, our office will work to end that attitude. We will fight more of these cases. With our office, lawyers who regularly sue the City will discover financial risks that come with taking on the LA taxpayer, including risk of losing, and higher litigation costs as a result of a thorough defense. This does not mean that no case will be settled. But it does mean that no case will be settled prematurely.
10. Consumer Protection
The City Attorney’s Office has earned national recognition for its success in consumer protection through its established Consumer Protection Unit. I will continue the City Attorney’s Office existing programs, including protection against tax scams, identity theft, counterfeit goods, ATM scams, immigration fraud, and home improvement contractor scams. Furthermore, I would expand areas of consumer protection in the office to include healthcare patient support though the creation of a Medical Provider Billing Abuse Notification System that will enable our office to provide investigators with the names of providers that allegedly charge exorbitant fees for standard services oftentimes “out of network” without informing patients that they are receiving services out of their coverage network. (In fact, I would propose legislation to require all medical providers in Los Angeles, when providing medical services “out of network” to patients to provide clear written notice, signed by the patient, acknowledging that the patient is aware that the healthcare provider is providing services “out of network” and the patient recognizes and acknowledges that the provider is “out of network”).
Consumer Protection has also been a priority in the Department of Public Works. For example, within our Bureau of Contract Administration, the Office of Wage Standards was created to protect workers’ wages in all industries throughout the City, and the Office has already developed a record of success.
11. City Services
As President of the Board of Public Works during the Garcetti Administration, I oversaw the implementation of state of the art technology that has forever changed the way our City delivers its core services and maintains its complex infrastructure. The Bureau of Sanitation developed the award-winning program CleanStat to effectively track the cleanliness of every city block and street. The Bureau of Engineering’s NavigateLA is a web-based mapping application that delivers maps and reports based on data supplied by City departments. The Bureau of Street Services developed the StreetStat Implementation Plan Dashboard and the City’s first tree inventory of over 700,000 street trees. The Bureau of Contract Administration rebuilt the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual Network to improve contracting opportunities for Minority and Women-owned businesses, and built the City’s Small Business Academy in partnership with the Department of Water and Power. And the Bureau of Street Lighting has installed street lights that charge electric vehicles, monitor air quality, provide Wi-Fi service, and even power cell phones.
As City Attorney, our office will cooperate with and represent every City department in their daily efforts to always improve their services to you.
12. Labor Relations
As President of the Board of Public Works, I worked almost daily with numerous public and private sector unions and guilds. These include Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Engineers and Architects (EAA), United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and Writers Guild of America (WGA).
Los Angeles is a labor city. Collective bargaining and contract negotiations are very important to the success of our local government. Equally as important are good labor relations. A respectful and harmonious relationship between the City and its employees and between the City and its contractors brings numerous benefits including greater efficiency, higher productivity, increased production, and high morale. As City Attorney, I will walk into the office on day one with solid relationships with these critical labor partners. These solid relationships are based on years of experience and mutual respect and trust built through honest and transparent dealings in the workplace, and my open-door policy that will continue as City Attorney. That style of fair, upfront, and welcome communications will continue as I grow my working relationship with the Los Angeles City Attorneys Association, the union that represents over 500 Deputy and Assistant City Attorneys.