Fed Judge in L.A. to Hear of Cities' Efforts to Impede Homeless Housing

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A federal judge today is expected to deal with concerns from the cities of Bell Gardens and Lawndale that efforts to provide safe isolation for homeless people at local hotels would put their communities at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan to temporarily house vulnerable people at hotels in the region is the focus of Project Roomkey -- a joint undertaking by the city and county of Los Angeles and the state of California. Over 250 local hotel and motel owners have been contacted and the county has entered into contracts for at least 2,500 beds, according to court filings.

Responding to objections from Bell Gardens and Lawndale, attorneys for the county wrote that the cities “ignore the fact” that the program is a temporary, emergency initiative that is “critical to protecting the health of the greater community.”

In addition, the county pointed out that Project Roomkey's effort to procure and operate hotel rooms for the purpose of isolation and quarantine is “expressly permitted” under the California Emergency Services Act and Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order.

“This is a matter of statewide concern that the cities cannot override, whether by way of letter, ordinance, or lawsuit,” according to the county.

Officials from both cities where hotels and motels are located were invited to appear at the off-site federal court hearing Wednesday presided over by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.

Last week, Bell Gardens warned that its attorneys planned to file a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the program operating in the city unless an agreement could be reached.

“The unauthorized operation of a medical facility” constitutes a breach of the hotel's lease with the city and if immediate steps are not taken, the city will be “forced to seek remedies,” including terminating the lease and essentially closing the hotel, according to the city's letter.

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A second letter from Lawndale's city attorney to the operator of a hotel in that city states that the agreement with the county “to become a temporary homeless shelter” was “negotiated and executed in complete secrecy” without any input from the city, and if the agreement was not terminated, the city would schedule a public Planning Commission hearing to consider revoking the hotel's special use permit.

The Lawndale attorney wrote that “while Project Roomkey is a well- intended program to help the most vulnerable homeless in Los Angeles County during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the city believes that allowing the (hotel) to operate as a shelter could cause irreparable harm to the Lawndale community.”

The county's Office of Emergency Management is also establishing hotels and motels as isolation facilities for people testing positive for or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and quarantine facilities for those who have been exposed to people testing positive for or experiencing symptoms of COVID- 19.

People are eligible for isolation and quarantine facilities if they cannot safely self-isolate or quarantine at home, regardless of socio-economic status, “but the unsheltered are the most likely beneficiaries of this program,” a county attorney wrote, adding that hotels and motels throughout the city of Los Angeles and county are participating.

The county has contracts for a combined total of at least 2,500 beds in cities in the Antelope Valley, the South Bay, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, and metropolitan Los Angeles.

Carter is overseeing a lawsuit against the city and county brought by the L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, which alleges not enough has been done to address the homeless problem downtown, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carter has managed to have dozens of new sanitation facilities installed in Skid Row as part of settlement talks and is attempting to find safe camper parking for those living in their vehicles in a 50-block area in downtown Los Angeles.

Photos: Getty Images

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