L.A. County Towns Clash Over Homelessness Policies

In mid-December, Karen Bass was sworn in as mayor in Los Angeles, the first woman mayor in city history. Leaders across the region were quick to express support when Bass declared a state of emergency related to homelessness and launched the Inside Safe program, with the intention of moving people off the street and into temporary housing in city-leased properties. These actions, taken during the new mayor’s first week in office, signaled her intention to ensure a path to housing the unhoused.

In Los Angeles County, nearly 70,000 people experience homelessness. Bass’s office will have to contend with structural and jurisdictional peculiarities that limit her reach in a region that is notoriously difficult to govern. One such peculiarity is the makeup of a place that is often referred to collectively as “Los Angeles,” but is actually a mashup of smaller cities with their own governing bodies.

The City of Los Angeles is the largest municipality in Los Angeles County, but it encompasses less than 4 million of the region’s nearly 10 million residents. The rest live in cities like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Culver City, all of which have their own mayors and city councils that govern independently.

For Bass and her stated goals, this presents an imposing obstacle. Houselessness is a regional issue and, despite wide recognition of the challenges associated with truly addressing the problem, local governments tend to work in silos and arrive at very different conclusions about how to address homelessness within their respective borders. This problem is illustrated by the story of one long-standing encampment that straddles the border between the City of L.A. and Culver City.

An Underpass in the Middle

The people who live under the 405 Freeway underpass on Venice Boulevard have faced a lot of scrutiny from the surrounding housed community. In 2020 and 2021, a series of tent fires and violent crimes thrust the encampment into the spotlight. Local news coverage focused on issues of safety and cleanliness in the neighborhood, with one article going so far as to be titled “A window into the nightmare of living next to the 405 underpass.” Public discourse focused on clearing the encampments, with debate centering on services for folks who are displaced versus enforcement. Yet the reality of this particular situation has proven much more complex than whether to force residents to relocate or not.

This encampment, one of the largest on L.A.’s Westside, is ….

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