Click on the Image above to read the April/May 2014 Community Connection.
Click HERE to download a High Resolution PDF Version.
HOUSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES CALL ON HACLA TO USE THE TIME CREATED BY HUD’S REJECTION OF $30 MILLION GRANT APPLICATION FOR JORDAN DOWNS TO FULLY MITIGATE TOXINS
The granting of redevelopment funds would have created a fast-track timeline that, in all likelihood, would have led to HACLA failing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect residents from the health impacts of toxins.
March 18, 2014, Los Angeles – The LA City Housing Authority’s billion dollar plan to convert the 700 unit Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts into a “mixed income urban village” were stalled on Monday when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI ) grant application for Jordan Downs was unsuccessful.
Last week, at a community meeting on the redevelopment, HACLA environmental advisor, Matt Rhoda, told the packed auditorium that no one needed to worry about lead in their community. Some residents expressed frustration that HACLA continues to refuse to test the soil and groundwater under their homes – something several hundred residents requested via petition – and were concerned that had this CNI grant been awarded, a full testing for toxins and subsequent clean-up might have been sacrificed to meet the strict project timeline. Residents also expressed feeling intimidated due to an onslaught of legal notices and aggressive evictions served on residents – which may affect their good-standing and ability to access the new units. Although, the removal of residents and the refusal to test for toxins have always been unacceptable, the denial of the CNI application affords HACLA the opportunity to immediately engage in area-wide groundwater and soil sampling, create a comprehensive clean-up plan and support residents in maintaining their housing stability.
Jordan Downs’ resident and single mother, Ely Acevedo has been organizing with other concerned mothers and residents to hold HACLA accountable for securing the health of current residents, who are expected to stay on site during the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Ely said, “They are playing with our health and the health of all the small children that live here. How dare they tell us that we shouldn’t be worried about lead in our neighborhood?”
HACLA’s own studies confirm levels exceeding 6,000ppm of lead at the vacant Factory site inside Jordan Downs. 80ppm is the state of CA standard. Earlier this month, Thelmy Perez, of the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, testified before the County Board of Supervisors: “We cannot comprehend how or why state, county and local officials can make such a fuss over the Exide contamination and ignore Jordan Downs, where there the same toxins have been found. All of our communities – especially where the majority of residents are children and people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy in the state – have the right to their health and to a high level of accountability from government when their health is in jeopardy.”
The Housing Collective members and allies at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Legal Aid Foundation of LA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative believe HUD’s decision provides HACLA with an immediate opportunity to ensure an adequate and comprehensive environmental testing and clean up is conducted, which fully protects the community’s health. The CNI program is ongoing and another application could be submitted after all environmental health and other community concerns are addressed. While HUD has chosen not to give a CNI grant to HACLA, the Watts community is entitled to adequate federal funding to secure their human right to housing, without it needing to be contingent on redevelopment. CNI is not the panacea, there are many federal funding opportunities, including from the Environmental Protection Agency, which should be actively sought by our local officials in an effort to uplift and preserve the cultural richness of Watts and its residents. After decades of neglect, it’s time to invest in the people of Watts.
Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.
The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.
The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.
“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”
Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”
Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.
“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”
However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.
“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”
“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”
“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”
The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.
This lawsuit is a result of years of unfair and unjust targeting of LA CAN staff and members by LAPD, a long history of retaliation against us for fiercely and loudly opposing LAPD’s racist Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row, and, more recently, their efforts to even more blatantly favor the Downtown business community’s position by stifling our right to protest and manufacturing charges against our staff.Through all of the attempts to criminalize us and silence us, LA CAN leaders and members remain unified and strong. We will continue to organize, continue to protest when needed, and we are hopeful the federal courts will uphold our constitutional rights and direct the City and LAPD to change their tactics, since all efforts at engaging with City officials to stop the years of harassment have failed.
Click HERE to read the official LA CAN Press Conference Statement in its entirety.
Click HERE to view the press packet, which includes the Press Release and a copy of the lawsuit, as well as a few key photos and emails from LAPD Officer Shannon Paulson to employees of the Central City East Association. These documents only scratch the surface of the coordinated effort to prevent LA CAN from exercising our constitutional rights.
Below you will find a Los Angeles Times piece by Gale Holland covering the announcement of the LA CAN lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Central City East Association (CCEA), Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, LAPD Lieutenant Shannon Paulson, and former CCEA Executive Director Estela Lopez.
Click HERE for the full press release.
By Gale HollandMarch 10, 2014, 4:29 p.m.
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday accuses the city of Los Angeles of malicious prosecution for charging a skid row community organizer with assault after she blew an air horn during a demonstration.
City Atty. Carmen Trutanich charged Deborah Burton, 62, with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly blowing the horn in officials’ ears during a 2011 skid row protest. Burton was acquitted of all charges last July. The suit says the charges were aimed at stifling political dissent.
Police conspired with business leaders, distorted crime reports and lied on the witness stand to frame Burton for crimes she did not commit, the suit says.
City Atty. Mike Feuer, who succeeded Trutanich, said in an earlier interview that the Burton claim had no merit.
“We proceeded in that case in a highly professional way,” he said.
LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said the department would not comment on a pending lawsuit.
The suit, brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of Burton and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, also accuses police of harassing and intimidating group members and falsely arresting its leaders.
The actions were designed to silence the group’s protests against the displacement and “criminalization” of poor residents of skid row, the densest concentration of homeless and extremely low-income people in the country, the suit says.
“Many business interests and the City officials who support them apparently see the existence of high concentrations of poor people in the area, especially African American men and the highly visible homeless population, as an obstacle to planned business expansion and development,” says the suit.
Also named in the suit are the Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, whose security guards patrol skid row on bikes; Central City East Assn. and its former director, Estela Lopez, who ran the improvement district; the Los Angeles Police Department; Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Lt. Shannon Paulson.
“Really, the city should have been helping them fight against homelessness, not put every barrier in their way and blatantly violate their 1st Amendment rights,” said Legal Aid Foundation attorney Barbara Schultz.
The suit seeks an injunction to halt interference with L.A. Community Action Network’s civil and constitutional rights; a declaration that the rights of Burton and her group were violated; and general, special and punitive damages. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.