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INFO ALERT: What BizFed said about Mayor Bass’s first 100 days

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We've been following the advice of journalists who spoke at our Sacramento Days media dinner and ramping up our engagement with local newsrooms. If we don't show up and speak up, we can't expect our voice and vision to appear with proper context in news stories. I recently sat for an in-depth interview with Linh Tat, LA City Hall reporter for Southern California News Group.

During the course of our call, we discussed how Mayor Karen Bass:

  • Humanely cleared homeless encampments in Venice and Hollywood.
  • Made a smart choice appointing former BizFed leader Rachel Freeman as Deputy Mayor for Business & Economic Development.
  • Exhibited sophisticated leadership in supporting the reappointment of LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
  • Can further engage BizFed Homelessness Action Committee partners to marshal resources for the city's fight against homelessness.
  • Can take timely action on high-priority business issues such as Al fresco dining to reposition LA as a business-friendly city.

Sound familiar? We wove in intel from all BizFed members who leaned in with feedback during our March Advocacy Committee meeting.

Thank you for speaking up! My conversation with Linh became the backbone of an article that ran in all Southern California News Group papers. Expect every local news outlet to run a piece on the new mayor's first 100 days in office. What we appreciate about Linh's deeply-sourced and well-organized story is how it asks leaders from various LA communities – including the broad business community – to weigh in on four specific buckets of work: homelessness, housing, public safety, and economic development.

I'm proud to be quoted alongside Valley Industry & Commerce Association President Stuart Waldman.

Scroll down to read the full article. It's a subscriber-only story, but we're happy to share with BizFed members whose collective voices it amplifies. Click here to learn more about LA Daily News subscriptions.

LA Mayor Bass’ first 100 days: As promised, homeless crisis front and center

March 21, 2023 –– The day before officially reporting to duty as mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass celebrated her historic win as the first woman, and only second Black official, elected to the city’s highest office with an inaugural ceremony full of fanfare.

But even as she basked in the moment, the city’s 43rd mayor vowed to get to work immediately to address L.A.’s most pressing issue – homelessness. So on her first day in office, Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness, and by week’s end, had issued her first executive directive to fast-track the construction of affordable housing.

Now, as she hits her 100th day in office on Tuesday, March 21, stakeholders and political observers reflect on the job Bass has done thus far.

Anyone who’s been paying attention since Bass assumed office in mid-December knows she’s been laser-focused on tackling homelessness and has devoted much time and energy on rolling out her signature initiative, Inside Safe, to move people indoors while cleaning up homeless encampments.

The mayor last week reported that her administration expects to house more than 4,000 homeless Angelenos by her 100th day in office.

Of that number, roughly a third of the placements will be the direct result of actions taken by the Bass administration, according to Zach Seidl, the mayor’s spokesperson. The rest found housing through other programs, such as Prop. HHH affordable housing units, that pre-dated Bass’ tenure as mayor.

According to the Bass administration, 516 unhoused Angelenos had moved indoors through Inside Safe as of March 14. That number is expected to more than double by midweek this week.

Meanwhile, the results are mixed among constituents as to what marks the new mayor should receive for her handling of the homelessness crisis.

Tracy Hernandez, CEO of Los Angeles County Business Federation, or BizFed, said Bass pledged to make homelessness her No. 1 issue when she ran for mayor and has thus far lived up to that promise.

During a recent call with BizFed members, Hernandez said, business leaders from Venice and Hollywood – two communities where street homelessness has been largely visible – gave Bass high marks for clearing encampments “in a humane way” while moving unhoused Angelenos indoors. Commercial property and restaurant owners also expressed optimism about the results, Hernandez said.

“People are impressed,” she said. “They’ve seen the diligence … and then tangible results.”

But Paul Freedman, a member of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said it’s too soon to evaluate Bass’ effectiveness in dealing with the homelessness crisis.

“The problem is so expansive. If you look around, it doesn’t look any different than it did during (Mayor Eric) Garcetti’s term,” Freedman said during an interview downtown, not far from skid row. “There are still encampments everywhere. There are new ones popping up.”

A Suffolk University/Los Angeles Times poll conducted this month found that while half of Angelenos approve of Bass’ overall job performance thus far, a bit over 50% of respondents did not feel the mayor’s declared state of emergency on homelessness has yet impacted what Bass herself calls a “humanitarian crisis” and expressed guarded optimism.

Although Bass’ administration has moved hundreds of unhoused people indoors through Inside Safe, there have been news accounts of cockroaches, mold, and other unsanitary or unsafe conditions at some of the motels. Bass said she’s aware of two motels where Inside Safe participants had to be relocated.

Bass and members of her administration also told reporters last week there aren’t enough people to provide services while the city tries to build out its program and that finding enough motel rooms near existing encampments has at times been a challenge. But they said they’re learning and making the program stronger daily.

Affordable housing
While certain supporters have praised Bass for being laser focused on moving people who live on the streets indoors, others say that has come at the expense of other priorities.

Some tenant rights advocates say the mayor should be doing more to address the lack of affordable housing and protections to keep renters from falling into homelessness.

Tony Carfello, a member of Los Angeles Tenants Union, struggled to give Bass a grade in this policy area, saying the mayor has been “absent” when it comes to addressing tenant protections. Bass should focus more on renters’ debt relief or efforts to provide more affordable housing so that tenants aren’t evicted in the first place, he said.

“Even if Inside Safe becomes a success and people who are in the encampments right now, if six months from now, they’re in housing programs, … what’s the effect if people are still losing their apartments left and right?” Carfello asked.

In an interview Monday, March 20, Bass acknowledged that one area her administration could work on is educating the public about new tenant protections the City Council recently passed. Her staff is working to launch advertisements in print, radio and other media to get the word out, she said.

The mayor also noted that since her executive directive to expedite the approval of 100% affordable housing projects, the city has helped close financing gaps on some projects that otherwise would have collapsed and that projects are moving through the pipeline more quickly.

“There are hundreds of projects that we’ve been able to speed up the process via the executive directive,” Bass said. “It’s very possible that the general public is not aware of that because all of the attention has been focused on Inside Safe.”

Earlier this month, the state awarded a “prohousing” designation to the city, and Gov. Gavin Newsom praised Bass for her role in expediting the construction of housing to deal with the homelessness crisis. Cities labeled as “prohousing” receive priority consideration when it comes to state housing funds.

Public safety
While Bass has received generally favorable marks from Angelenos for confronting the homelessness crisis, some of the harshest criticisms levied at her thus far have come from those who would like to see the Los Angeles Police Department undergo major reforms, if not fully defunded.

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah said group members are disappointed that Bass supported the reappointment of Police Chief Michel Moore.

“It would’ve been very easy for her not to reappoint. We weren’t asking her to fire him. We were asking her to let his term (expire),” she said.

In a January announcement about supporting Moore’s reappointment, the mayor’s office noted that Moore won’t serve a full five-year term and that a national search for his replacement will commence before the 2026 World Cup.

Additionally, in a letter to the police commission stating her support for Moore’s reappointment, Bass noted that she and Moore agreed there needs to be police reform, including how officers respond to an individual having a mental health crisis, increasing community policing, expanding alternative response measures and recruiting more reform-minded officers.

Hernandez, of BizFed, said the business community is pleased that Bass supported Moore’s reappointment to ensure stability while she’s building out her administration. It shows, Hernandez said, “sophisticated leadership” and “independence” on the part of Bass to make decisions on controversial topics.

But not everyone agrees with those decisions.

Abdullah said the mayor should take a more forceful stance against the LAPD, including publicly condoning law enforcement’s use of robot dogs, which skeptics believe will be used as a surveillance tool.

Advocates of police reform say they’re waiting for Bass to release a comprehensive public safety plan. Abdullah accused Bass of using the homelessness crisis as “an excuse” to not address other issues that are also important to Angelenos.

“She has to be able to address multiple things simultaneously. She can’t just say I’m addressing housing so I’m not going to address other issues, including community-based public safety,” Abdullah said.

Bass, who has known Abdullah for years, said she respects the Black Lives Matter activist but disagreed that she hasn’t paid attention to public safety. Last month, she announced the appointment of a deputy mayor of public safety and a deputy mayor of community safety, as well as the appointment of two police commissioners.

“Some people who disagree with me might not like what I am doing, but it does not mean I’m not doing anything,” Bass said.

While critical of Bass’ response so far to public safety, Abdullah credited the mayor for engaging with community members, noting that Bass met with BLM-LA members within a week of the group asking to discuss with her the police chief’s reappointment.

“What she has done well is she has at least engaged. She hasn’t run from community. Her predecessor was especially afraid of criticism, especially from the Black community,” Abdullah said.

“She gets an ‘A’ on engagement but doesn’t get an ‘A’ on anything else,” she added.

Economic development
In January, Bass told a roomful of business leaders the No. 1 thing she heard on the campaign trail from the business community was that L.A. was not friendly toward businesses, and that she wanted to change that perception.

Four weeks later, she announced the appointment of Rachel Freeman as deputy mayor for business and economic development, a pick that both Hernandez, of BizFed, and Stuart Waldman, the president of Valley Industry & Commerce Association, called a smart choice. Freeman most recently worked as a senior executive for Tejon Ranch Company, overseeing land use, sustainability, transportation, infrastructure and other development activities within L.A. County.

“Taking an extra couple months to hire the right people is the appropriate way to go,” Waldman said, referring to the fact that Bass did not have her entire administrative team assembled on Day 1.

Unlike previous mayors who were elected in the spring and had several months to put together their team before assuming office, Bass had a much shorter window because the mayoral election was moved to November last year. It took more than a week of ballot counting before Bass was declared the winner, leaving her 3½ weeks to prepare before her term started.

Though Bass did not make many promises to business leaders while campaigning, Waldman said since becoming mayor, she’s met with many in the business community.

“I think she definitely understands it’s a priority,” he said.

Overall performance
Manuel Pastor, director of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California, and a member of the mayor’s transition team, agrees that Bass’ work on affordable housing and her public safety plans are “incomplete” and that she’s only now gaining traction on other policy areas like mass transit and economic development.

However, he said it’s been critical for the new mayor to focus her attention on homelessness early on, not only because many agree it’s the city’s most pressing issue, but to help restore Angelenos’ faith in government. In recent years, voters have been frustrated that they haven’t seen more progress after passing major city and county taxes like Proposition HHH and Measure H to provide housing and services to those experiencing homelessness.

“She’s a brilliant politician,” Pastor said of Bass. “She read the room. The room was: ‘Work on homelessness. Restore our faith that government can get something done so that when you come to us and say instead of police, we’re going to deploy a wide array of mental health workers, we say, yeah, that seemed to work on the homelessness thing. Let’s go.’”

“I don’t think that she’s ignored other issues,” he said. “But if she was moving the ball down the field, … the ball that’s moved the furthest is homelessness, with the idea being that’s going to build confidence in everything else.”

Bass pushed back on any notion of being a single-issue mayor thus far, saying she has tackled multiple issues – though homelessness has been front and center.

“I ran because I believe our city has (a homelessness) emergency. So of course, my initial focus was on the state of emergency … (but) I’ve gotten a number of things done,” she said.

“I have been so honored and so moved by the support and good will that has been extended to me,” she added. “It has encouraged me to continue full speed ahead (moving people) out of tents and into housing.”


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Tracy Hernandez
BizFed Founding CEO