Courtesy Photo Pacoima residents and volunteers during a community cleanup event at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sutter Avenue.

LA City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez has a list a projects she says she is determined to get done in the 7th District she represents. They have ranged from the fireworks “buyback” program earlier this year to pushing for shelters and transitional housing in Pacoima and Sylmar for the homeless living on the streets and in encampments.

But few things have tested that determination, she said, like trying to get a lot cleaned in Lake View Terrace where different governmental agencies and public utilities have a jurisdictional claim. 

The contrast was made more glaring by a recent community project in Pacoima, where Rodriguez recruited volunteers to help clean the corner of Sutter Avenue and Van Nuys Boulevard on Aug. 28, a locale plagued by the illegal dumping of trash and other types of waste.

Also involved in the event — described as a “Back2work” event in addition to a community cleanup — were various agencies, businesses and organizations providing sponsorship and information on job opportunities for those seeking new or a change of employment. Among them was Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps people seeking jobs with writing online applications and resumes, preparing for interviews, and employment preparation classes.

“There’s been a variety of job opportunities that have opened up that enable people to shift their trajectory and have employment opportunities like those being offered in partnership with Chrysalis as well as [others]. They are putting folks to work, getting paid to help being part of the cleanups in these areas,” said Rodriguez, whose district also includes Mission Hills, North Hills, Shadow Hills, and Sunland-Tujunga.

Mark Loranger, president and CEO of Chrysalis, noted that some of the transitional job information included opportunities to work on crews leading freeway maintenance.

“Anyone interested in finding work, but facing barriers to employment, has a team ready to support them here at Chrysalis,” Loranger said. “Joining Councilmember Rodriguez’s Volunteer Corps for the community cleanup was a great opportunity for us to tell more people about our program and how we could support them on their job search.”

Other project work delayed again 

But community clean-up projects — and working with volunteers — is one thing. The effort to clean up a former homeless encampment after the persons there were relocated into transitional housing has remained maddeningly complex.

The Lake View Terrace location, next to the 210 Freeway, off Foothill Boulevard has other entities  — Edison and the Army Corps of Engineers — that have some degree of jurisdiction and right-of-way claims which had kept the actual cleanup ensnarled in a bureaucratic web.

Rodriguez said she has been trying to get this particular lot cleaned up for two years now. She said the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency (LAHSA) was finally able to place 29 homeless people in the encampment into the Good Night Inn, an 87-unit facility in Sylmar built primarily to house vulnerable seniors and a ‘Project Homekey’ site. And that Caltrans has agreed to do the final cleanup.

Still, it has been “difficult” to secure all the necessary permissions, Rodriguez said, and sync them with the LAHSA relocation of those in the lot encampment.

The final, permanent cleanup was supposed to begin on Tuesday, Sept, 7, but was once again delayed. A new date was not provided by the San Fernando Valley Sun/ElSol’s deadline.

“[The fact that] we started working on this back in 2019 tells you how much time it’s taken,” Rodriguez said, indicating the continued battle over who is responsible for maintaining the lot “makes it really complicated.”

“It is owned and maintained by Caltrans, SoCal Edison, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Nowhere did I mention the city of Los Angeles,” she said. “So it makes it complicated to make sure these agencies are compliant with the maintenance, weed abatement, and so forth.

“We’re starting to see a huge shift in the cooperative effort to help address this problem. And I’m grateful for the collaboration of all these important partners. I do understand [the public’s frustration]. But it is not a simple solution. It’s very complicated due to jurisdictional issues, and this site is reflective of that.”

Other Cleanups Being Considered

Rodriguez is aiming to have other encampment cleanups in her district, although she would not reveal those targeted locations yet. She acknowledged that the general public — in spite of recent cleanups in Echo Park and Venice Beach — is weary of seeing the continued blight and misery of the unhoused, and has growing fears for personal safety brought on by the sheer enormity of the county’s homeless population, which at last count (in 2020) had surpassed 66,0000 men, women and children.

“It’s real easy for some to say or think, ‘just push these folks from one place to another.’ It’s a very different thing to be able to place them into housing,” Rodriguez said.

“I will just say it is my hope that we are laying the groundwork for what I feel will be a variety of successes we will be looking to share in the next couple of months. I know people are thinking, ‘what about this location, or our location?’ Trust me: we’re taking them one day at a time. We’re working on every location [in need] and we’re being very strategic and thoughtful about how we approach these locations.”

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