As objections mounted from Los Angeles cities to a plan to temporarily house homeless people in danger of contracting the coronavirus at local hotels, a federal judge Thursday indicated that Gov. Gavin Newsom's emergency order would prevail regardless.
The plan to house vulnerable people at hotels throughout Los Angeles is the focus of Project Roomkey -- a joint undertaking by the city and county of Los Angeles and the state of California. Over 250 local hotel and motel owners have been contacted and the county has entered into contracts for at least 2,500 beds, according to court filings.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter heard of concerns from cities including Bell Gardens and Lawndale that efforts to provide safe isolation for homeless people at area hotels would put their communities at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Carter, though, referred to a judge's recent decision in Orange County allowing the county to move forward with a plan to convert a Laguna Hills hotel into temporary housing for homeless people over the city's objections. The Superior Court judge determined that under state law, the county can use city property to address the public health crisis, consistent with Newsom's declaration of emergency.
In the meantime, Los Angeles County filed suit against Norwalk as a result of that city's efforts to block use of local motels/hotels for Roomkey's housing and isolation/quarantine sites for the homeless.
In another attempt to stymie the program, Lynwood passed an ordinance preventing local hotel/motel owners from contracting with the county to provide shelter for the homeless without the city's authorization.
Responding to objections from Bell Gardens and Lawndale, attorneys for the county wrote that the cities "ignore the fact" that Roomkey is a temporary, emergency initiative that is "critical to protecting the health of the greater community."
In addition, the county pointed out that Roomkey's effort to procure and operate hotel rooms for the purpose of isolation and quarantine is "expressly permitted" under the California Emergency Services Act and Newsom's executive order.
"This is a matter of statewide concern that the cities cannot override, whether by way of letter, ordinance, or lawsuit," according to the county.
It appears likely that a resolution to the cities' problems with the county will not arrive quickly.
The off-site federal court hearing presided over by Carter is part of 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 a 50-block area in downtown Los Angeles.
The Lawndale attorney wrote late last week 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."
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 for 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," a county attorney wrote, adding that hotels and motels throughout the city of Los Angeles and county are participating.
The county has contracts for a combined total of at least 2,500 beds in cities in the Antelope Valley, the South Bay, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, and metropolitan Los Angeles.