It’s not a great time to be a hotelier anywhere, but it’s especially bad in Los Angeles.
It isn’t just that the city’s normally bustling tourist economy is taking a hit from the coronavirus crisis. It’s also that there’s a major homeless problem there — and that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials are looking for a solution from the hotel industry.
One of solutions is a program of the county and city of Los Angeles called Project Roomkey, where hotel rooms are used to house the homeless. According to the county’s website, the hotels “provide temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness who are not COVID-19 positive or symptomatic, but are vulnerable to complications should they become infected with COVID-19.”
“The County has partnered with hotel associations to identify sites that meet the operational needs of the program. Hundreds of properties have been explored and contacted,” the website states.
But not enough have said yes, apparently.
According to KTTV-TV, while the city of Los Angeles has been looking to house 15,000 homeless through the partnerships, it’s only been able to place 1,582 in Project Roomkey locations. So now, at least one city council member is looking to “commandeer” rooms from hotels that don’t willingly allow homeless individuals to stay there.
“If hotels are making a distinction among people classifying housed and unhoused differently in terms of accommodations that they’re going to be repaid for, that the city and county will pay for with reimbursements, then I think there’s a potential civil rights violation,” Councilman Mike Bonin said at a Wednesday meeting, KTTV reported.
“If the problems are on the hotel end, the public should know why, and then we should consider commandeering as they’ve talked about in other cities.”
For right now, the city isn’t going to do that. Instead, the city council voted to identify any hotels that have refused to participate in the program and see if they’ve received tax breaks.
“It would seem to me to be a complete justification that we expect something back, especially during an emergency,” Councilman Mitch O’ Farrel said, according to KTTV.
However, if Los Angeles decides it wants to go the way of “commandeering” private property, the dean of (of course) Berkeley Law at the University of California Berkeley says it’s legally feasible.
“If the city decides it needs to take hotels to house the homeless, the city, I think, will be able to do that,” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told KTTV.
“The Constitution says that the government can take private property for public use so long as it pays just compensation, the city, therefore, could commandeer a hotel for the homeless, but I think that would be confiscating for a period of time, and the government would have to compensate the hotel owners.”
If the city council is playing the bad cop, meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is playing the good cop.
“Each hotel brings new hope, each room could save a life,” Garcetti said, according to KABC-TV.
“Hotel and motel operators are ambassadors of the Angeleno spirit.”
However, bad cop Councilman Bonin says that, you know, if you don’t want to be ambassadors of the Angeleno spirit, he’s willing to make you be an ambassador.
“I don’t think fancy hotels should be exempt from Project Roomkey,” Bonin said, according to KABC. “As we look to hotels to step up, those that have benefited from public investment and public largess — those are the first that we should be looking towards.”
That includes the famous Ritz-Carlton — a hotel that’s is part of L.A. LIVE, a complex that signed on to receive $270 million in financial incentives from the city over a 25-year period in 2005, according to a 2018 report from the Los Angeles city controller.
The Ritz-Carlton is private property and demanding access to it in exchange for money is cronyism, plain and simple. However, the city is also demanding access to rooms in a hotel that houses 224 condominium units.
The homeowner’s association says it will be fighting participation in Project Roomkey based on concerns regarding safety, health and property values.
“Aside from the logistical concerns, safety concerns, there are families that live down there with children,” said John Satterfield, who owns two units in the building, according to KABC. “I don’t actually trust how they’re going to control it.”
“We were all shocked and offended when we found out this might be a possibility,” said Art Avaness, broker and owner of Re/Max in Downtown Los Angeles, according to KTTV.
“In theory it’s a great idea, I support the program. But in practice, specifically for this property, it just isn’t, because you want to house hundreds of homeless people in a structure that’s literally in the same building with 224 homeowners? Having it in your own home basically is just a little too much, in fact, it’s offensive.”
“Average price for a one-bedroom is about a million bucks,” Avaness said. according to KABC. “Minimum, $1 million and goes all the way up to $40, $42 million.”
“Imagine spending millions of dollars to buy one of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton residences in downtown Los Angeles only to learn you may soon be sharing space with the homeless.”https://t.co/tLhewlqpD9
I just did and submitted it as a sitcom spec!
— Kevin Dayton (@DaytonPubPolicy) May 5, 2020
If Los Angeles provides proper remuneration for these units, it’d be an incredible waste of taxpayer money and an infringement upon private property. And keep in mind, this isn’t just Los Angeles’ money; the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be reimbursing the hotels for 75 percent of the cost, KABC reported.
If the city doesn’t provide proper remuneration, it’s basically going to be forcing one of the most exclusive properties in the world to give it rooms at a massive discount because the city once gave tax breaks to the property’s owners.
And that’s what other property owners can expect, tax breaks or no tax breaks. This is going to be on Los Angeles’ terms. Anyone who thinks it won’t be is a fool. You can listen to good cop Garcetti about how this is about being better Angelenos or listen to the bad cops on the city council about how, if you don’t cooperate, they’ll make you cooperate — or else it’ll be termed a civil rights violation.
The homelessness in Los Angeles is, among other things, a failure of state and local government. Shaming property owners because they won’t solve the government’s problems is part of the problem in California, not part of the solution.
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