The message from L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, in her letter to the editor published today, is clear: There is no homeless shelter planned to be built in the Tesoro del Valle community, or in the planned addition to Tesoro, the proposed 820-home Highlands development.
The letter follows a prepared statement issued by the supervisor’s office on Thursday that included this comment from Rosalind Wayman, Barger’s Santa Clarita Valley field deputy:
“Supervisor Barger does not support a homeless shelter where there has been no discussion or consensus by the community. She would never validate a shelter without community input. There is no need for an additional shelter in the area. The community-driven services currently provided by Bridge to Home have the supervisor’s full support.”
The statement came on the heels of a Tuesday homeowners association meeting in which an estimated 80 Tesoro residents turned out to express their concerns after two members of the county Regional Planning Commission requested that a homeless shelter be added to the plans for the Highlands.
The statement also quoted Barger’s homeless services deputy, Dana Vanderford, who correctly pointed out that the county and the city of Santa Clarita are already working with the non-profit Bridge to Home on creation of a year-round shelter in a much more appropriate location, on a $1 million piece of city-donated land near Drayton Street and Railroad Avenue.
The letter in today’s paper and the statement issued Thursday can, and should, help Tesoro residents rest a bit easier: Our community’s representative on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors does not support the addition of a homeless shelter in Tesoro del Valle, nor would she without community input.
We believe Barger, and we trust that the supervisor and her team are sincere in their assurances that a homeless shelter is not headed for Tesoro, which would be an unsuitable location for a variety of reasons, including a lack of proximity to public transportation.
That’s only part of the equation, though. The broader issue presenting itself is the approach to homelessness that is evident not from Barger’s office, but from other county officials.
The upshot? L.A. County wants to “decentralize” the homelessness issue and make sure all communities countywide are doing “their fair share” to handle it.
And, as that philosophy goes, if all we do is address the needs of the homeless who are within our own community — as the joint efforts of the city, the county and Bridge to Home are perfectly capable of doing — there are county officials who say that’s not enough.
What could that mean for the SCV? It could mean this is not the last time such a question will come up, and it may not be the last time someone in the downtown Hall of Administration casts an eye toward our community and thinks, “They’re not doing their fair share on homelessness.”
As evidence, we remind you of the comments from two county regional planning commissioners who asked the Highlands developer to return for a continued hearing on Nov. 7 with a revised plan that includes a homeless shelter.
Commissioner Doug Smith, in the commission’s Aug. 1 hearing on the Highlands project, told the developer that affordable housing and a homeless shelter, in his opinion, “need to be included in your development.”
And, commission Chair David W. Louie said: “We’ve seen many, many situations where homeless emergency housing has been resisted in that particular community because some residents felt it wasn’t appropriate. My sense is that (L.A. County) supervisors feel there needs to be recognition of that throughout the county. And, that all communities need to take on their fair share of emergency-home housing. So, I’m going to ask you to reconsider that — that of the 800-plus acres that you have, that you find a location within your development that could accommodate an emergency homeless facility.”
In other words, Louie views SCV residents as a bunch of NIMBYs — Not In My Back Yard.
Well, when it comes to placement of a homeless shelter, it’s difficult to fault a homeowner for not wanting it “in their back yard.” We believe the community should provide shelter and other services to help the homeless who really need help, but it’s a fact of life that it’s not something too many property owners would be excited to have right within their neighborhood. It’s important to find appropriate locations that not only make the services accessible to those who need them, but also give due consideration to community residents’ concerns.
The comments of Louie and Smith were reinforced by the county planning commission’s spokesman, Mitch Glaser, who said on Thursday: “I think the perspective the commissioners were getting at is homelessness is a countywide issue, and there are fewer homeless people in the Santa Clarita Valley and north L.A. County than in the more densely populated areas of downtown L.A. The county’s concern in the last 10 years is to decentralize shelter and services throughout the county. So the point was to ask the Tesoro applicant to think about what he can do to address the need of supportive housing in the community still being planned, but to be clear, it was not a mandate.”
No, it’s not a mandate. But the mind-set is indisputable.
Barger and her deputies are looking out for the SCV, yet the fact remains that she is one vote out of five on the Board of Supervisors. If the board as a whole adopts the “decentralization” approach to the homelessness issue, it’s not a great leap to think it could, at some point, ratchet up the expectation that the SCV “do its fair share,” and provide services and shelter not just for the homeless in our community, but for the homeless who will be brought here from elsewhere.
We thank Barger and her team for their diligence and their support of our community, but we remain concerned about the longer-term question: How will the “decentralization” of L.A. County’s homelessness crisis impact our community?