So Pas City Council Rejects Consultant’s Homeless Plan, Asks for Deadline Extension

Sergeant Robledo talking to one of the homeless people he visits on his weekly route. The person photographed is now at Union Station in Pasadena and is in the process of applying for transitional housing. Courtesy photo

On the heels of South Pasadena Councilwoman Diana Mahmud’s severe criticism of a $30,000 homeless plan as cookie-cutter vague and nearly useless, city staff has now recommended it be rejected and wants a deadline extension to make the plan better before submitting it for additional grant money.

City staff has recommended the council reject the plan. Furthermore, they have also recommended the council request an extension to July 20 to allow council time to fix the plan’s many deficiencies.

The consulting firm, LeSar Development Consultants, prepared the initial draft plan with a city assist and presented its findings during the last council meeting June 6. The plan was met with significant pushback by Councilwoman Diana Mahmud, who characterized it as a “waste of money.” Mahmud said the plan could’ve been for any city and was not useful for South Pasadena. In fact, at one point, Mahmud pointed out that the plan identified “publicly owned land” as a possible solution to house the homeless.

“I don’t think we have any (publicly owned land) in our town,” Mahmud said at the June 6 council meeting. “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 every other cities’ 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.”

The council directed the consultant to go back and fix the plan, be far more specific to South Pasadena and bring it back to the June 20 meeting. Councilmembers acknowledged that wasn’t much time since the deadline of June 30 needed to be met to be able to get more funding.

The council has to adopt the plan by the end of June in order to qualify for additional grants under Measure H, the quarter-cent sales tax for Los Angeles County 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.

Winne Fong of LeSar Development Consultants did not reply to the critique at the June 6 meeting, 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 June 6 was just a draft and will be changed. Kim touted her South Pasadena residency as a kind of guarantee. That the plan would be adequately changed because she lives in the area. Apparently, it wasn’t changed enough.

“We need a more lucid plan to ameliorate homelessness,” said Mayor Richard Schneider. “What was brought to City Council would not initiate anything meaningful. We are waiting for an improved plan.”

Mayor Pro Tem Marina Khubesrian agreed.

“The plan submitted by the consultant is lacking in specifics that would apply to the situation in South Pasadena,” Khubesrian said in an email to The Review. “We are working with the consultants to improve the plan and add such specifics and hopefully will have an amended plan by Wednesday.” 

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe summarized the issue this way: “City staff has recommended that the Council not accept a City-commissioned homeless plan so that it can be revised based on recent feedback and input. … While South Pasadena has a relatively small homeless population, the City is committed to finding local and regional solutions to address housing, food insecurity, mental health, addiction treatment and other related issues.”

Police Chief Art Miller, who along with Sgt. Shannon Robledo is a point-person on this issue, echoed those sentiments.

“The city received the grant with the hopes of enhancing our services to our homeless population,” Miller said in an email to The Review. “The police department started a homeless outreach program 4 years ago. The benefits of a city our size is we are able to quickly respond to any issue that involves the homeless. For example, we asked for homeless people to voluntarily provide personal information that our police officers can use in an emergency situation. Our officers know the population and provide social services when appropriate. The plan was rejected because it did not offer anything new. Also, as presented, the plan was generic and meant for a community with a significantly larger homeless population. The plan should not be a ‘one size fits all.’

The well-intended grant presentation missed the mark. In the meantime, as we move forward, our officers will continue to provide compassionate services to those who need it most. Hopefully a new, well thought out plan will be presented.” 

The council is requesting the deadline be moved back to July 20 to allow additional time to work with the consultant team.

A quick look back indicates the city accepted a $30,000 grant from the county and then with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments hired a regional consultant for the development of an “achievable Homeless Plan.”

Reasons for rejecting the plan include that it offers solutions that are already implemented by the city, makes unreasonable requests “which have not been vetted by the community such as coordination with the School District to identify volunteer and fundraising opportunities contributing to homeless individuals,” more actions already underway by the city, and “does not include staff input indicating public land identified is not owned by the city and does not show understanding of funding limitations regarding purchase of surplus property.”

City, community and public input “has not been incorporated into the plan to reflect alignment with the city’s unique challenges and opportunities,” according to the city staff report. “Several residents indicated their desire for a community task force, or their concerns with safety, which do not appear to be reflected in the current plan. Moreover, there has been no identification of regional solutions.”

South Pasadena has 11 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in the city, according to Sgt. Robledo. In 2016, there were nine people.

“In 2016, the homeless individuals identified lived in vans, tents, makeshift shelters, and out on the street,” Robledo said. “In 2017, most of the homeless individuals identified lived out on the street.”

The deadline extension will allow the city to work again with the consultants to try and target what is needed in South Pasadena and still be eligible for Measure H funding.