When Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley proposed purchasing prefabricated housing from Utah to shelter up to 2,000 homeless and needy people, he challenged each of the 15 City Council members to find sites for the structures in their districts.
"Our homeless are scattered all over this city," Bradley said at a September press conference. "The solutions should be all over this city."
The council members reacted with very little enthusiasm.
Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the Los Angeles Harbor area, said her district is already doing more than enough for the city's poor and homeless.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district extends from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley, said through an aide that it is Bradley--not the council members--who should find locations for the housing.
Project Still on Hold
Nearly two months later, Bradley has still not sent the proposed purchase to the council for action. Deputy Mayor Grace Davis, who handles homeless issues for the mayor, said last week that Bradley remains committed to the purchase, but added that she has "no idea" when the proposal will be ready.
The biggest roadblock to the proposal, several city officials said, is both political and logistic: Where do you put 630 prefabricated buildings intended to house some of the city's most destitute residents?
Officials from several city departments are bogged down searching for available city-owned property, checking into zoning, planning and environmental issues, determining if such things as water and sewer hookups are available at the sites and trying to come up with about $6.3 million to pay for the housing.
Through it all, the officials are striving to strike a balance among the 15 council districts--looking for sites in the Valley, the Westside, the Eastside, downtown and the harbor area.
"People complain that more should be done for the homeless, but they don't want them in their area," Davis said. 'We are looking at all the council districts" to take some of the housing.
Even without a specific proposal before them, opposition to the plan among some council members is already forming.
"If he is talking about using the housing for the homeless--the Ted Hayeses of the world--then I have a real problem with it," said Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley. "The city has no right to use tax dollars for this purpose. It is really a county and state responsibility."
Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes some of the most affluent communities in the Westside and the Valley, said he is "skeptical about temporary housing because they can deteriorate and spread deterioration." Besides, he said, there is no suitable land in his district.
Yaroslavsky, while calling the prefabricated housing "a good idea," described the effort to disperse them equally among the council districts as a bogus issue.
"I am sure the mayor will be able to identify properties in my district that would be appropriate, but I can't see putting them in Tujunga or putting them in Chatsworth where they couldn't be further away from homeless services," he said.
The decision to begin sharing what one official called the "homeless burden" apparently had several roots.
At his press conference, Bradley emphasized the breadth of the homeless problem and the need to serve homeless people scattered throughout the city.
In an interview, Davis said there were philosophical and social considerations, namely, that the entire city needs to confront the homeless situation for real solutions to emerge.
And several city officials have pointed to thorny political issues, especially a feeling among some council members that the city must stop dumping its most needy residents on a few communities.
Flores, whose district stretches from Watts to Wilmington, has been one of the most vocal proponents of the burden-sharing approach. Last summer, Flores nearly killed another Bradley housing purchase--102 mobile homes intended as transitional housing for homeless families--when she learned nearly three-quarters of the trailers were earmarked for her 15th district.
"We continue to put the burden of housing the very, very low income in certain areas and that puts a strain on all services in those areas," Flores said in an interview last week. "That is really not fair."
Flores' district, which includes more than half of the city's low-income public housing units, was slated to receive more than 70 of the 102 mobile homes.
In a compromise later worked out among the City Council, the mayor and the city's Housing Authority, Flores agreed to take 24 of the mobile homes. Five other council members--Richard Alatorre, Ernani Bernardi, Robert Farrell, Ruth Galanter and Gilbert Lindsay--agreed to take a total of 57 others, while the city continues to search for sites for the remaining 21.