INTERVIEW WITH COUNCIL DISTRICT 10's NEW COUNCIL MEMBER

Category: Community News
Published on Monday, 13 September 2021 18:36
Written by Dianne V. Lawrence
SEPT21MRTwebThe Neighborhood News wanted to give our new Councilmember an opportunity to explain his vision for CD10 during his four-year term in office.  Although we recognize homelessness and its serious impact on our community and appreciate Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas's "singular" attention to it, we were hoping for a more specific awareness of and answers to the wide variety of concerns CD10 constituents have. We agreed to allow follow-up questions, but unfortunately in the end, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas declined when pressed/asked to clarify his answers.  TNN decided to print the original questions, his original answers, and the unanswered follow-up questions in italics.

TNN 1: What specifically made you decide to run for Council District 10? What issues did you see in our district that you felt you had solutions for...other than homelessness?

Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas: Homelessness is my number one priority. I have hit the ground running to advance several policy initiatives. The crisis is multidimensional and our solutions must respond accordingly. My overall vision is to establish a “Right To Housing” - and staff are now working on a framework to operationalize this within the City of Los Angeles. We are also focused on establishing the City's first-ever Citywide Street Engagement Strategy, and a “Housing Now Fund,” an initiative through which the City and County of Los Angeles will partner to provide rental subsidies and supportive services for a minimum of 10,000 people experiencing homelessness.

On the ground in CD10, I have funded and supported nonprofit multidisciplinary teams as they carried out Street to Home initiatives to successfully house over 75 people in Leimert Park in South LA, over 40 people living under the 10 freeway at Venice and David in West LA, and over 30 people in the Koreatown area in the past six months. We plan to double down on this work with additional dedicated funding for the teams working across the 10th District.

Lastly, I ran to ensure CD10 gets its fair share of resources. I have been laser-like focused on this pursuit and continue to stay on the case because at the end of the day, results matter and equity must be our guiding star!

1:1: We understand that homelessness is your passion but lets put that aside for now and look at specifics for Council District 10. What resources specifically is CD10 not getting a fair share of and what have you done and are doing to ensure we get them?

Please list them and your actions.  It’s important for our readers to know what your plans are for our district in addition to homeless issues.


TNN 2:  Where do you stand on Senate Bill SB 9 and SB 10?  (SB 9 would preempt local zoning by allowing up to eight units on what is now a single family lot. That means lots as small as 2,400 feet could be split with two units.  Developers would not be required to pay for any infrastructure improvements to those lots as well.

SB 10 would allow cities and counties to approve up to 14 units on single-family lots without notifying or hearing neighbors' concerns.)

CMRT: I have been closely monitoring these two pieces of legislation. There is no question that far too many Californians struggle with housing insecurity, which has exacerbated the homelessness crisis. But with the wealth gap already so large between majority residents on the one hand, and minority - particularly Black - residents on the other, I do not believe that we should promote legislation on the state level - such as SB 9 and SB 10 - that could reduce wealth building opportunities for communities of color.  Doing so will only worsen the trend of outside investors buying up land in these communities, thereby pricing out long-time residents.

Instead, government, from the local to the federal level, should promote a Right to Housing agenda, and make investments in homelessness prevention efforts (such as eviction defense and rental assistance), interim housing, permanent housing, and trauma-informed, street engagement strategies for our unhoused residents.

Los Angeles is already leading the way in supporting land use strategies that effectively site multi-family housing around our transit system. We don't need a statewide solution here - we need other jurisdictions to step up as LA already has.

Meanwhile, we must continue to advocate for fair, living wages so that people can afford to pay rent and mortgages in Los Angeles and California.

TNN: 2:2 What do you mean by “reduce wealth building opportunities”?

2:3  Since you brought it up, the Right To Housing program in New York City has resulted in pushing homeless people out of sight and into temporary shelters. of their $3 billion budget supports temporary shelters not permanent housing.  How do you respond to this concern?

2:4 Your Right To Housing talks about programs that need to be set up down the road. What ideas do you have to provide immediate assistance to the homeless in CD10 by the end of 2021?

2:5 Since you brought it up, share with our readers what you have done to advocate for and ensure a fair living wage? 


TNN 3: You are closing the existing Council District 10 field office building on Western (that was gifted to the city) to spend millions of dollars to convert and renovate another field office building in Koreatown. We also heard you are constructing a new building on Crenshaw to house CD10 staff and a constituent services center, which the building on Western can easily accommodate. The city is having a money crunch. Where are you getting the money to do these building projects and how is this project benefiting the people in CD10?

CMRT: First, it’s not just another field office. We are investing resources the 10th District is due, to make sure that constituents are well served – and this is but one example.

I value the importance of being present in the community that I serve and believe that this work will not be accomplished solely by advancing policy in the chambers of City Hall alone.

The CD10 field office on Western Ave. will not be closing; on the contrary, I will increase its value to the community by having members of my staff along with members of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) street engagement teams located there. They will use the building as the South Los Angeles Homeless Outreach and Coordination Hub, a centralized location to coordinate and deploy services out to the community we serve.

TNN: 3:2 Once again... What is it that CD10 is due that we haven’t gotten and you will be bringing to our district - so our readers know what to look out for.

3:3 There are a variety of on the ground organizations within CD10 that have been helping the homeless for decades. Places like

https://www.naturalivyfoundation.org/about-us


and https://www.worldharvestla.org/

Have you researched these local organizations and reached out to support and partner with them? If not why not?

3:4 How is the expansion of these sites being funded? Where is the money coming from?

3:5 The Koreatown and Crenshaw offices are on the CD10 borders.  But redistricting is coming up. Isn’t putting these offices so close to the borders risky? How can you be confident they won’t come under the jurisdiction of another Council District by a redrawing of the borders?


TNN 4: Other than being relied on for campaign funding, small businesses in CD10 have been typically neglected by their CD10 representatives. Now more than ever they need the attention of their elected reps. Have you identified their needs? What plans do you have to reach out to our small business community to address their concerns and make it easier for them to do business?

CMRT: Arguably now more than ever, the small business community needs support from their City and local representatives. And I’m proud to say that CD10 has been doing its part. Our office has helped small businesses support their workers in getting vaccinated against COVID-19 with pop-up vaccine clinics; hosting a CD10 Business Roundtable on the City’s most pressing issues; assisting businesses in identifying opportunities for accessing subsidized wages programs available through the City of LA; and connecting CD10 businesses to technical education, tools, and capital, such as LA’s Economic Workforce Development Department’s Business Loan Program and Business Source Centers. My team is poised to continue assisting businesses in taking advantage of these opportunities. Furthermore, I am developing an initiative to engage businesses with stipends, to be part of the solution to the homeless crisis.

My team has met with a variety of business owners and organizations to ensure we continue to be in touch with their evolving needs, and we will continue this work, especially as the pandemic ensues with cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 proliferating in LA.

Furthermore, I am developing an initiative to engage businesses, with stipends, to be part of the solution to the homeless crisis.

My team has met with a variety of business owners and organizations to ensure we continue to be in touch with their evolving needs and we will continue this work, especially as the pandemic ensues with cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 proliferating in LA.

TNN 4:2  When and where was the CD10 Business Roundtable hosted? How did local businesses find out about it and who showed up? (I reached out to our advertisers and none of them were aware of this event.)

4:3  “My team has met with a variety of business owners and organizations to ensure we continue to be in touch with their evolving needs.”

Who on your “team” can be contacted by businesses that need CD10 assistance? Do you have a deputy assigned to specifically address their needs?

4:4  “My team is poised to continue assisting businesses in taking advantage of these opportunities.”  

Have you assigned a specific person CD10 businesses can contact for assistance?  If so, can you provide their name and contact information?

4:5  “I am developing an initiative to engage businesses, with stipends, to be part of the solution to the homeless crisis.”  Please explain what this means. How will stipends to businesses be part of the solution to the homeless crisis?


TNN 5. You recently championed a controversial motion, passed recently, to make it extremely difficult for the homeless to camp in public places. You said “I remain singularly focused on expanding housing resources and specialized services for our unhoused residents.” But you got elected to represent the concerns of CD10 constituents who have issues other than homelessness. Shouldn’t resolving those issues be your singular focus?

CMRT: This is not camping, or any other form of recreation. These individuals are trying to survive under miserable – and oftentimes unspeakable – conditions. This is about helping unhoused individuals transition off the streets with dignity and long-term solutions.

Poll after poll has shown that homelessness is the number one concern of residents throughout the City of LA, including CD10. This was abundantly clear before I was elected and the topic is even more top-of-mind now as we continue to grapple with the collateral damage wreaked by this global pandemic. I will continue to do my utmost to expand housing resources and specialized services for our unhoused residents - not only because that is my duty and obligation, but also because my constituents expect that of me. In fact, creating more housing and specialized services will help expand the safety net and prevent more people from falling into homelessness.

However, this doesn't mean that our work is one-dimensional. From the revitalization of Leimert Park and Marlton Square to creating internships for young people in the bioscience sector, my team is also working on various community and economic development initiatives which are all designed to improve the quality of life of residents across the District.

TNN: 5:2 “various community and economic development initiatives which are all designed to improve the quality of life of residents across the District.”

Please list these initiatives.

5:3  Will you be having ongoing outreach Roundtables to stay in touch with your constituents and report on your progress with the issues they have identified?


TNN 6: You said your measure would ensure that public agencies “thoughtfully engage homeless people and offer them housing options.” You also claim there are 41,000 homeless on the street. Are there that many housing options currently available, and can you identify them?

CMRT: According to the most recent LAHSA Housing Inventory Count data, the City of LA, in collaboration with the County of LA, has expanded the homelessness safety net to approximately 15,000 shelter beds and 24,600 permanent housing slots - but this is not sufficient to address the crisis on the streets.

This is why I am focused on establishing a Right to Housing, and the City team is expected to provide the Council with a proposed five-year strategy to increase the interconnected safety net of homelessness prevention, interim housing, permanent housing and street engagement this fall.

TNN: 6:2 Please identify how many homeless are in CD10 and how many beds are available on an emergency basis, how many transitional beds are available, and how many permanent supportive housing projects are in the pipeline for CD10.


TNN 7. I have talked to homeless people that have rejected some of the options available to them. What happens to the ones who don’t comply?

CMRT: The community-based nonprofits that do the actual work on a daily basis have multidisciplinary teams with nurses, mental health clinicians, substance use counselors, people with lived experience, and case managers who connect with and assess the needs of people living on the streets. The street engagement teams, who are doing the actual work, report that most unhoused individuals who are living on the street are interested in coming indoors and accepting services and housing.

People become homeless for many reasons - many are working but have insufficient income to pay for rent on their own, some are elderly and too frail to work and lost housing when their spouse died, some have mental health issues after having served in the military and seen active duty, some are young people who ran away from volatile homes as teenagers. Just as people have a multitude of routes into homelessness, they will have varied journeys to exit homelessness. Research shows that just like you and me, having someone that they trust outline the options available to them, helps them understand the options and start taking steps to transition out of homelessness to housing. It often takes time to build trust.

I also pushed for revisions to the ordinance – which were approved by the County – with the express intent that enforcement of the ordinance did not lead to criminalization.

TNN: 7:2 There is a long-term unhoused resident in our community who would absolutely refuse services. How will the city handle people who are aggressively service resistant?  Like the chronically mentally ill?


TNN 8. Has the city identified safe places to camp?

CMRT:  The City has worked with the County to provide a multifaceted approach which includes homelessness prevention (rent relief, eviction defense, affordable housing); interim housing (shelters like A Bridge Home, mental health beds, substance use beds, recuperative care beds); permanent housing (rental assistance, conversion of under-utilized motel properties, supportive housing, Board and Care); and street engagement.

TNN 8:2 Sorry this doesn’t answer the question.  The City has identified where you can’t camp; where are the locations that people can safely pitch their tents until they are housed? Specifically in CD10. Has your office identified them?


TNN 9: Can you identify three typical complaints (other than homelessness) that you are getting from CD10 voters and your solutions? You can start with the garbage pickup in cans along Washington and Pico which CD10, not the city, is responsible for.

CMRT: My Constituent Services Team is working closely with the nonprofit that is contracted to service the trash cans specifically along Washington Blvd. and Pico Blvd. to ensure that the trash collection services are provided and maintained four days a week. In addition, upon assuming office, I quickly facilitated the removal of problematic trash cans which has helped improve overall service along the corridor.

During the pandemic, there has been an increase in illegally dumped furniture, bulky items and electronic waste. The Constituent Services Team is working closely with the Los Angeles Sanitation Department to monitor and respond to these incidences in a timely manner, and I have a staff member dedicated to providing a rapid response to these types of issues.

We also continue to hear concerns from people worried about eviction, due to financial challenges associated with the pandemic. That is why I have partnered with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, in collaboration with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, to provide additional resources for eviction defense.

TNN:9:2 Where was the location of the problematic trash cans that were removed.

9:3  Which staff member can be contacted to expedite the removal of illegally dumped furniture, and their contact mobile and email.

9:4  Please specify the nature of this partnership and the additional resources you will provide to the Legal Aid Foundation and Asian Americans Advancing Justice and provide contact info at your office for people seeking help with their evictions.


TNN 10: Unlike most other councilmembers, you do not provide a phone number for your constituents to contact your office. Community members are starting to complain about difficulty contacting your office, with unresponsive emails. What are you doing to make sure your constituents are responded to in a timely manner by your staff and your deputies are held accountable?

CMRT: We welcome and respond promptly to calls from constituents. The 10th Council District office phone number is (213) 473-7010.  You can find our phone number, contact information for my staff, and a variety of other useful links at https://markridley-thomas.lacity.org/contact.

TNN 10-2: The link you provided does not bring up staff contact numbers or any links to them.

10-3: How do constituents voice concerns if a deputy assigned to help them doesn’t return calls in a reasonable amount of time (48 -72 hours)


While TNN was going to print, it was reported that Councilmember  Ridley-Thomas had decided not to run for mayor.  This was a concern for many CD10 voters because it would have meant had he won, he would be leaving our district halfway through his term. Typically a councilmember serves a district for two terms of four years each, giving them the length of time needed to dig deep and advocate for their district.  As it is, because of his prior service as Councilmember of District 8 he can no longer run to represent a council district when his four- year term representing Council District 10 is up.

To stay in touch with our Representative, check out his website    https://markridley-thomas.lacity.org/