Interview with State Senator HOLLY MITCHELL In a Run Off for L.A. Supervisor Part 2 of 3


TNN: I want to focus a bit on addiction and mental illness among the homeless, because there are different thoughts about how to handle that. And as you know, they’re very difficult to house. They don’t like to stay or there’s a lot of drama. And so, what are your thoughts on dealing with the addiction and mentally ill population?

HM: First, we have got to look at the Prop 63 dollars. [the Mental Health Services Act that provides increased funding, personnel and other resources to support county mental health programs] I have some concern along with many counties across the state, about the level of reserve. The county is sitting on millions in Prop 63 dollars and we have to look at that. We also now have a new Director of Mental Health and he is a forward thinking, very progressive leader, Dr. Jonathan Sherin. Since his arrival maybe three or four years ago, he’s been very proactive in making sure that money is spent and used wisely in mental health services. I think we as a government have to step back and evaluate the kind of programs and facilities we have built to figure out if they really are appropriate, if they are truly meeting the needs of the mentally ill and substance abuse that people are suffering from today. Then we have to build and create programs that are appropriate. This problem, again, didn’t happen overnight. Decades ago, we closed our state mental health facility (which many people attribute to Reagan when he was Governor of California, but it actually began at the federal level) with the promise and the understanding that community-based mental health facilities would be built and that federal government dollars would be available. That we would build more humane community-based mental health facilities where people would be close to family, which was in keeping with current modern research about what an appropriate facility would be. When you know better, you do better, and we stopped frontal lobotomies and stopped treating mental health conditions in arcane violent ways. So we closed those hospitals, because they were unpleasant places. However, they did not build the community-based mental health facilities that they said they would. And now, decades later, we don’t have the appropriate facilities to house people. LA County doesn’t have enough up-to-date facilities, enough mental health beds. You talk to any hospital and any emergency room doctor and they’ll tell you that too many of their beds are occupied by people who are really having a mental health crisis but have no place to go.

TNN: And that includes prisons.

HM: And that includes our county jail. Our previous sheriff would tell you that he was running the largest mental health facility in the country, because if someone was on the street having a mental health crisis, who do you call? The police. When the police show up, what do they do? They take them to jail, because there’s nowhere else to take them. So we have to change that paradigm.

TNN: What can the county supervisors do? Is it on their agenda? Is that a priority? Is it on their radar?

HM: It is on their radar, because they have the county mental health department. And so, the county supervisors along with the state, along with the federal government, have got to prioritize building facilities to meet the needs of our mentally ill population. And it’s got to be across the board. Many of my opponents in this race like to talk about, “Oh, we need to treat people at school and catch them early.”  And they want to talk about autism or they want to talk about dementia. Well, we also have to talk about people with extreme cases of severe mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia, and textbook mental illness. And those require different kinds of facilities for them to be safe and receive treatment and care. The Second District has fewer beds than many of the other supervisorial districts.  Kedren in South LA is one of the few facilities in South Los Angeles that has a mental health residential treatment facility. We have to build more.

TNN: And is that on the top of your agenda? Is that one of the things you want to focus on?

HM: Absolutely, we have to. We can no longer afford to ignore it. We have to.


TNN: So, what are your ideas for increasing the needed funding for the county’s efforts toward the homeless, an increase in taxes or a charter amendment to allocate the existing funds toward the homeless?

HM: I’m not sure yet that additional funds are needed. I think for the first time, thanks to the voters passing Measure H and HHH, we do have resources available. I think it’s an issue of working with LAHSA, the LA Homeless Services Authority, to make sure that those dollars are being allocated efficiently and well. Again, I mention the Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act, dollars. [Measure H—a companion measure to Proposition HHH. Part of the $355 million generated annually by Measure H’s quarter-cent tax hike will pay for services at the 10,000 permanent-supportive units slated to be built for LA’s chronically homeless population under Proposition HHH. Developers of those homes would be unable to move forward, however, until services are in place—making Measure H critical to ensuring the goals of HHH are in place.] LA County has many of those dollars in reserve. We have to figure out why and if those dollars could be utilized more quickly, more efficiently. And so, I’m not ready to say, “Oh, we need to tax,” or “We need more money.” I think that we need to continue to look at how we’re using the dollars the voters have recently appropriated, in the most efficient, effective way.

TNN: Speaking of which, what do you think of Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks’ two billion dollar proposal to provide homeless housing?

HM: It’s not just hers. She is a co-author along with Assembly Member Miguel Santiago. In fact, it is the exact proposal that the city and county came together to bring to us. So, it is really sponsored by the city and county of Los Angeles. Miguel Santiago is the lead author and Buffy is a co-author. I think it’s a great proposal, but as budget chair, I have to say, considering that the coronavirus is going to impact our overall economy and economic health and well-being, we’re going to have to wait and see if that kind of investment is even feasible this coming year. I’m hoping that it is, but this is going to force us into interesting economic times for the general public and the government.

SB 50
“The bill would “upzone” many areas previously dedicated to single-family housing, allowing for the construction of multistory apartment complexes near transit routes and fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods.”

TNN: What is your position on SB 50?

HM: I voted no on SB 50. When I spoke on the floor I said, “Some people perceive single-family homeowners as a monolithic group and they’re not.” I represent large communities of single-family homeowners who quite frankly are holding on by their teeth. And we need to figure out a production bill that’s not detrimental to current residents of LA City. Because I’m also clear that my no vote on SB 50 wasn’t the end of the conversation. I, along with my fellow legislators who represent residents throughout LA County, are involved in working on a housing production bill that would work in an LA City and County kind of environment. I told many constituents whom I’ve met with over the past two years, who were adamant about a no on 50,  “If we say no to SB 50, what can we and must we say yes to?” because that’s been my attitude, to figure out how we develop a production bill that doesn’t decimate the city and county of LA as we know it. I have voted, for example, on many bills that my colleague Bob Wieckowski from Northern California has introduced.  He’s carried several bills around ADU, (Accessory Dwelling Units) to make it easier to finance and build additional units on one's property to help relieve some of the pressure of our housing construction needs.


TNN: I’m sure you’re aware of the current corruption scandals at City Hall involving Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar. Just a year ago in February 2019, Forbes Magazine pegged the California Central District in Los Angeles as the second most corrupt city in America with 1,534 corruption convictions between 1976 and 2016. Jack Humphreville, a reporter from CityWatch LA said this happened on Council President Herb Wesson’s watch and he should have known what was going on and take some responsibility for this. The Los Angeles Times described you as the legislature’s moral compass. Do you think that the city should hire an independent council to investigate pay-to-play corruption that the Feds say is rampant in Los Angeles?

HM: Law enforcement should continue to do their due diligence around investigating inappropriate activity. In the state legislature we certainly have had numerous FBI investigations where members have been charged and convicted and have paid the price. I think that’s the appropriate role of the FBI, and they should continue to do their job.

TNN: Well, the Feds arrive after the crime has been committed. This is not the first time LA has been in the top 10 list of corrupt cities, based on lawsuits and convictions, so there’s clearly an issue with corruption in City Hall. Shouldn’t there be some internal way of keeping an eye on things to avoid the FBI investigations?

HM: I have supported the independent commission overseeing the sheriff, to have more power and have subpoena power. I think shedding light in government is an important thing. The question always is how independent these oversight commissions can be and what kind of power they truly have to do investigations and get to the root. When you say, “To prevent these things from happening,” the city already has an ethics commission that establishes a practice of standards and  that we all have ethics training. So, if you want to talk about prevention, the ethics commission already exists. At some point, maybe we as voters need to ask different kinds of questions of the people we elect, because we can’t legislate morality. We can have whatever this oversight entity is you want and give them all the power they need. That won’t necessarily prevent a person from doing wrong. You know what I mean? So, we have ethics standards. We have signs. We have rules that we’re supposed to abide by. And yet, people continue to engage in wrongdoing. So, we have to take a step back and figure out what’s the deal. What do we need to do to address an issue that you’ve said LA has suffered from for many years. I don’t know if yet another layer of another oversight entity is the answer. It may be, but I just think that we all have to stop and think about it a little more deeply.

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