Attorneys for Los Angeles County Friday filed a request for an emergency hearing with a federal judge, alleging that their court-ordered efforts to help house homeless people at risk of contracting the coronavirus are being stymied by objections from Lawndale and Bell Gardens.
According to the filing in Los Angeles federal court, the county has received correspondence from the two cities threatening to interfere with Project Roomkey, which seeks secure housing in participating motels or hotels for vulnerable persons experiencing homelessness.
Included in the filing is a letter to a hotel operator from Bell Gardens' city attorney in connection with the "unauthorized decision to sublease the hotel … to be utilized as a medical shelter and quarantine housing for contagious and high-risk patients potentially infected with COVID- 19."
The letter demands a stop to use of the hotel for the homeless and requests that existing tenants be transferred elsewhere as soon as possible.
"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 letter.
The letter dated Wednesday further warned that Bell Gardens planned to file a motion for a temporary restraining order in Superior Court by Tuesday, unless an agreement can be reached.
In response to a call for comment, a Bell Gardens spokesman pointed to a city statement that "the operations of the medical sheltering facility are outside of the allowable uses of the hotel. The city expects to work with the hotel business owner to ensure the hotel is operated in accordance with allowable uses."
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A second letter included in the county's filing 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."
"There's always room to work things out," said Lawndale City Attorney Tiffany Israel.
The county's filing asks U.S. District Judge David Carter to schedule an "immediate intervention."
The judge "can play a valuable role in the county's efforts to successfully implement" Project Roomkey in the two cities, the county wrote, asking that Bell Gardens and Lawndale city officials be ordered to appear.
"Time is of the essence," county attorneys wrote in the filing.
Project Roomkey is a state-supported and FEMA-approved program to secure hotel and motel rooms in local communities to provide safe isolation capacity for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in order to protect them and their neighbors from COVID-19 during the ongoing public health emergency.
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 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," the county attorney wrote, adding that hotels and motels throughout the city of Los Angeles and county are participating.
The county has contracts for beds with more 25 hotels for a combined total of 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 the 50-block area in downtown Los Angeles.