Councilwoman Criticizes City Consultant’s Homeless Plan

From left, Winne Fong, LeSar Development Consultants, Jennifer Kim, Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative in the Chief Executive Office and South Pasadena Police Sgt. Shannon Robledo, presented the homeless plan to the City Council last week on Wednesday night. Photos by Steve Whitmore

South Pasadena Councilwoman Diana Mahmud last Wednesday night unleashed a blistering critique of a homeless plan prepared by a consultant, costing $30,000, and expressed strong disappointment with the plan’s lack of specifics.

“I was looking for very specific suggestions in a plan (that) was more a how-to, and instead, what we have are a number of very general suggestions that, quite frankly, I’m concerned are so basic that we didn’t need to spend $30,000 to figure out,” Mahmud told the consultant’s representative, Winnie Fong of LeSar Development Consultants. Fong presented the plan’s findings to the City Council during the meeting. Mahmud’s comments came after Wong’s presentation.

South Pasadena
Diana Mahmud

Mahmud continued her critical assessment: “I’m very disappointed in the plan. I think it falls far short, certainly of my expectations. So that, for example, one of the things is you suggest enhancing the community resource tool-kit. How? To do what? What is it lacking? What would it benefit by being modified and I would hope that your firm would agree to address the specific questions that I’m raising in a supplement … this is not what I thought we were getting.”

Mahmud continued her critique by offering up example after example where she thought the plan fell short. And when the plan does make a recommendation, Mahmud said it’s not applicable to South Pasadena, such as using publicly-owned land to house homeless.

“I don’t think we have any (publicly owned land) in our town,” Mahmud said. “So, to me it’s kind of ridiculous to make that recommendation if we don’t have something like that. I was just expecting something that does not look like every other city’s plan, that is specifically tailored to South Pasadena, and I’m really hoping that you issue a revised plan and that you make more specific South Pasadena-targeted recommendations.”

Fong did not reply to the criticism, but Jennifer Kim of Los Angeles County ‘s Homeless Initiative in the Chief Executive Office did offer a response, saying the plan before the council Wednesday night was a draft and would be revised.

“This is a draft plan,” Kim told the council. “And I haven’t even seen the full report yet. Once I do receive that, I will be going over it very closely and the county’s priority, our office’s priority, is the same. We have the same concerns. We want to see specific, specialized recommendations that fit the needs of that specific community.”

The council has to adopt the plan by the end of the month in order to qualify for additional grants under Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax for Los Angeles County that was approved by voters back in March, 2017. Measure H is specifically designed to prevent and combat homelessness countywide by way of funding mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, healthcare, education, job training, rental subsidies, emergency and affordable housing, transportation, general outreach, and prevention, among other services.

South Pasadena applied and received a $30,000 grant of Measure H funds that were used to prepare the homeless plan specifically targeting the immediate area.

The plan must be adopted June 30 by the council in order to qualify for further funding under Measure H. The draft was presented to the council last week on Wednesday night.

Mahmud’s concerns prompted the council to discuss how to get a revised plan before the deadline. At which time, Kim told the council there was a possibility of an extension until the end of July.

“…the county has authorized an extension for cities who may not be able to make the June 30 deadline, so we’ve given an extension until the end of July, should you need it,” Kim told the council.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe told the council she was unaware of the extension until Kim mentioned it and offered that as a way for LeSar Development to go back and prepare a more detailed report.

However, Kim stepped back up to the microphone and said if the city did ask for a deadline, they may lose out on more Measure H grant funds.

“If your city submits your plan after June 30, we may not be able to consider your plan when we go to the Board (Board of Supervisors) to ask them for a realistic number so that’s sort of a risk that you run,” Kim said, seeming to back-peddle on the possibility of extending the deadline. “Another thing I would like to say to maybe allay some concerns of the council is that as a resident of South Pasadena, I’m very much invested in seeing South Pasadena’s plan succeed and be in the best position to receive phase two funding so if you have concerns about that, I can assure you that I’m working very closely with this team to make sure the plan is in that position.”

The council decided to have LeSar Development revise the plan with more specifics and get it back to them in two weeks. The council would review the revisions and look to vote on it at the June 20 meeting.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County has about 57,794 people that experience homelessness on any given night in 2017 – an increase of 23 percent over 2016, according to information contained in the draft plan.

Moreover, South Pasadena has 11 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in the city, according to a staff report prepared by South Pasadena Police Sgt. Shannon Robledo, the city’s point-person on the city’s homeless issue. In 2016, there were nine people.

“In 2016, the homeless individuals identified lived in vans, tents, makeshift shelters, and out on the street,” according to data prepared in Robledo. “In 2017, most of the homeless individuals identified lived out on the street. This trend is consistent with most of the cities throughout the county. The purpose of the City of South Pasadena’s (plan)… is to set a roadmap for the city over the course of three (3) years to further address the needs of its homeless residents and those who are at risk of homelessness, as well as to participate in regional solutions.”

The plan identifies six areas that need to be addressed. They include reducing the extent and scope of homelessness within the city footprint, aligning city resources with county investments, reducing city costs that are not contributing to combating homelessness, improving quality of life for all residents and promoting “more livable cities for current residents and future generations.”

The plan also breaks down the living arrangements this way: In 2016, two people were living on the street, three in vans, two in tents and two in makeshift shelters. While, in 2017, eight people were living on South Pasadena streets and three were living in cars. The plan does not address the shift away from shelters to the streets. 

LeSar Development implemented the plan and was assisted by the city in coordinating a series of stakeholder meetings and interdepartmental interviews over the course of six months.

The input sessions included clergy, homeless advocates, police, fire, and city officials as well as the homeless. The sessions identified six goals, including to continue current activities, establish links to crisis response systems, provide education and resources, expand access to work and employment programs, explore innovative housing solutions, and to coordinate with regional partners on the plan’s implementation.