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LA Mayor Karen Bass focuses on homelessness, climate issues in 1st year

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is pictured. Over the past first year of her term, Bass has centered her administration on homelessness and climate issues. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Gabby Jamall

Jan. 21, 2024 9:40 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 21 at 10:25 p.m.

After just over one year in office, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has centered her administration on mitigating the impacts of homelessness and climate issues.

Bass, who took office Dec. 11, 2022, is the first woman and second Black person to be elected to the position. Before taking office, she founded the nonprofit Community Coalition to address problems surrounding poverty and addiction in South LA and served in both the California State Assembly and the United States House of Representatives, according to the City of LA Mayor website.

Deputy Mayor of Energy and Sustainability Nancy Sutley said Bass’s background in community engagement has equipped her with the political experience to listen and address the needs of her constituents.

“It’s a very strong history, that kind of community engagement,” she said. “Bringing people into the process and particularly in this area, it’s an incredibly valuable thing, important thing, that the city has embraced and needs to continue to embrace.”

As soon as she was sworn in, Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness to emphasize the urgency of a citywide response. In December 2022, there were 41,980 people without homes across LA.

Professor of urban planning and public policy Michael Lens said the Bass administration’s acknowledgment of the gravity of LA’s homelessness situation was honorable.

“I would definitely commend the administration for taking on our homelessness crisis with the appropriate amount of urgency,” Lens said. “There’s no question that she came in viewing homelessness as a very complicated problem.”

One of Bass’s first actions against homelessness was the enactment of Executive Directive 1, which ordered expedited discretionary review and permitting processes in the construction of temporary and affordable housing projects.

Gary Blasi, a professor of law emeritus and public interest lawyer, said this directive has worked to improve a broken system that makes it tedious and complicated to erect low-income housing, as well as shelters for unhoused people.

Bass also introduced her Inside Safe Initiative, a collaborative and strategic approach to handling homelessness that focuses on moving people out of encampments and into interim housing. According to a report by the city of LA published in December, Inside Safe has helped more than 21,000 unhoused people in LA move into either interim or permanent housing.

Other efforts by Bass to confront homelessness include Executive Directive 3, which permits the emergency transformation of underutilized city-owned property into homeless shelters, and Executive Directive 6, which authorizes the temporary use of hotel rooms in residential hotels as a form of interim housing.

Lens said the Bass administration has distinguished itself from the former mayoral leadership of Eric Garcetti by attacking the issue of homelessness with a revitalized vigor.

“We have a renewed attention to this issue, and there’s more fight to make the city better and more livable, but also more accommodating,” he said.

Sutley said the work has not been easy, as there have been challenges ensuring that new affordable housing projects are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable but efficient manner.

However, the administration has also received certain critiques on its homeless policies. Blasi said an area of contention surrounding Bass’s policies is her excessive attention towards homeless encampments while other, potentially more dangerous, forms of homelessness go largely unaddressed.

“Most homeless people are not in encampments,” he said. “Most homeless people are in vehicles, or they’re sleeping on somebody’s couch, couch surfing, or they’re in other settings.”

Another area of focus for Bass has been related to climate issues.

As well as her administration continuing Garcetti’s Green New Deal, which aimed for 100% clean power in LA by 2035, Bass and her team also relaunched the Cool LA program, which provides incentivized discounts to underserved communities that install energy-efficient air conditioning units in their homes. In 2023, the program was able to supply units for more than 7,000 Angelenos.

Sutley said from the start of her campaign for office, Bass remained dedicated to tackling the climate crisis in LA, as well as the inequities of the impacts faced by communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods in LA.

“I think the mayor feels we should take advantage of the work that has been already done to ensure that we are making progress towards those zero-emission goals,” she said.

In October, Bass celebrated California getting $1.2 billion in federal funding to pursue LA’s zero-emissions goal.

Sutley added that this financing presented the chance to address several of the city’s energy and climate-related problems, including the electrical gridding system, stormwater projects to gather excessive runoff and cleaning up contaminated plots of industrial land.

With a little less than three years remaining in Bass’s term, Sutley said Bass’ administration is excited to continue making progress as more international events are set to take place in LA, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

“These are events that are exciting on their own, but they also bring a lot of people to LA and so making sure that the world gets to see LA at its best,” she said. “It will be an interesting opportunity for us to really work hard to make sure that we put our best foot forward for these times when the world’s coming to Los Angeles.”

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