Rep. Karen Bass used the kickoff event of her campaign for mayor of Los Angeles to reiterate her pledge of making solving homelessness her top priority if elected.
"In 1994, we treated the emergency (of the earthquake) as an emergency," Bass, D-Los Angeles, said Saturday at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. "We mobilized local, state, federal governments, the private and nonprofit sectors. Neighbors helped neighbors. We found temporary shelter and rebuilt our city. In record-breaking time."
"We can fix our city again. Forty-thousand people on the street is an emergency. Solving this emergency — solving homelessness — will be my overwhelming top priority as mayor."
Bass called Project Roomkey, which uses vacant hotel and motel rooms to house people experiencing homelessness, a success, but added "we need to cut the red tape and make buying motels and renting hotels a key part of our strategy so that we can immediately move people from our sidewalks, parks and beaches into safe and comfortable rooms."
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She also called for a "focus on rapidly built temporary housing and portable structures like the safe trailers used by FEMA after natural disasters" and pairing housing with services.
Bass also pledged to "work to support and strengthen the business community because I care about income inequality, and we need to make LA attractive to businesses, large and small, that provide living wage jobs so people can afford homes."
"We need to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses are included and fully participate," Bass said.
"We need to use the platform that the mayor has, the bully pulpit and formal mayoral authority, to celebrate our city, recruit employers, clean neighborhoods and cut red tape, so that we can attract good jobs to LA and rebuild our middle class so that we can attract jobs that pay for mortgages, that pay for college savings, that pay for retirement and that offer dignity and stability."
Emmy- and Grammy-winning comedian Tiffany Haddish also spoke, recounting her upbringing in foster care and being homeless.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced his endorsement of Bass on Friday, was among the other speakers, along with Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park.
Bass would be Los Angeles' first female mayor and the second Black mayor, after Tom Bradley, who was mayor from 1973 to 1993.
Bass' focus on homelessness echoes the rest of the field seeking to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is barred from running for re-election because of term limits.
Councilman Joe Buscaino has also described homelessness as an emergency and pledged "to treat it with that level of urgency." His plan on homeless includes building "more housing, faster" and connecting people experiencing homelessness with temporary housing.
Buscaino has called for enforcing a ban on encampments in parks and on sidewalks.
"For those who refuse to go into shelters or permanent housing, we must engage every measure available in order to get them off the streets," Buscaino said. "If that means using the assistance of law enforcement, I support it."
Councilman Kevin de Leon has called homelessness "the moral issue of our lifetime." He has pledged to create 25,000 new housing units by 2025, cut red tape to expedite construction and permitting, require affordable housing in new buildings and identify opportunities to leverage unused public and retail spaces.
City Attorney Mike Feuer has pledged to declare a homelessness state of emergency on his first day in office and to "appoint and empower a high-level point person on homelessness, who will report directly to me."
Feuer said his "goal will be to make shelter available for all by the end of my first term."